‘We are all professional actors – we’re not just doing this for kicks.’ Purposeless Movements, presented by Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, is a deftly structured and highly politicised piece of work, that continually shifts its audience’s presumptions and expectations of performers with impairments.
Purposeless Movements, written and directed by Robert Softley Gale (creator of the acclaimed If These Spasms Could Speak), navigates the stories of five guys with cerebral palsy. The stories performed by Laurence Clark, Colin Young, Jim Fish and Pete Edwards are personal, often very intimate, and also incredibly funny. A humour runs throughout that is wonderfully undercut as Clark remarks, ‘if you’re laughing, you won’t be so freaked out by our jerky movements.’ As an audience we are not allowed to forget the ableist power dynamics at play. These moments of awareness are wonderfully realised, shifting the audiences’ perspective in an instant, revealing what seem to be “purposeless” moments to be highly politicised encounters, opportunities for critical reflection.
The work is beautifully presented. Neil Foulis’s design brings the audiences towards focused points with clarity, before reflecting that critical gaze back towards themselves. Scott Twynholm and Kim Moore’s live score, and the profusion of lenses and projection, ensure for a very busy stage space, one that does feel occasionally too cluttered. Amy Cheskin provides a BSL interpretation that is woven into the piece; her presence is integral to the work’s dramaturgy, and exemplifies that Birds of Paradise can both advocate for and implement properly inclusive theatre practices. They make this look simple and that’s maybe because it is, requiring a degree of awareness and attention so often found lacking elsewhere.
Birds of Paradise exist to be a force for change in Scottish theatre. Purposeless Movements at times feels unstoppable, refusing to make allowances and concessions, refusing to adopt the narrow conventions expected of disability arts. These are not inspirational figures, these are professional actors, actors who move with purpose, incision and skill to challenge your perspectives and politics. Purposeless Movements is a very important piece of work.