[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)
As a conceit for a show, Robert Softley’s is a clever one. As the affable Softley explains to us at the beginning of the piece, he has cerebral palsy, which makes him spasm when he’s surprised or stressed. If those spasms could speak, Softley wonders what they might tell us, about his body, his disability and his life. But he doesn’t stop there; he’s also spoken to numerous other disabled people about their bodies and how they interact with the world. Their verbatim accounts are woven through the piece, offering a wider insight. It’s a highly intelligent and deeply funny show, offering a glimpse into Softley’s day-to-day reality laced with a wicked sense of humour.
Softley is an extremely adept performer. Not only does his own voice feel honest and true, but he also portrays the fears, hopes and worries of the other people he’s spoken to very well. He both plays up to and undermines our expectations, pre-empting what we might be thinking with wit and charm while also telling us that it’s OK to laugh. He also doesn’t shy away from being explicit, discussing his own and other’s sexual needs and desires – wondering if he can get away with only hiring hot women to be his personal assistants without falling foul of employment legislation in particular gets a big laugh.
In an audience with a much higher percentage of obviously disabled people than is typical, it’s clear that many of Softley’s experiences are recognisable to others, too. Our charismatic switches between personal experience and the experiences of others, illuminating the day-to-day triumphs and difficulties he faces, and that other disabled people face in different ways. He never suggests that his experiences are universal, although some could well be, particularly the assumption he pokes at that if you’re in a hospital in a wheelchair you must be someone’s patient.
His wry and amusing is matter-of-fact and sharp, and manages to be genuinely funny as well as clever. It’s a simple set and set-up, but Softley’s generous and genial presence keeps his audience in the palm of his hand throughout.
If These Spasms Could Speak is at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.