BANGALORE : The second edition of The Going Solo International Theatre Festival will travel the country and showcase a collection of three plays from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Bangalore leg of the festival is currently going on at the Rangashankara Auditorium.
As the audience waits for the inaugural play to open, there is a pin drop silence. If These Spasms Could Speak is written and acted by Robert Softley and directed by Sam Rowe. This basic information along with the synopsis in the brochure gives one an idea what the play is about, however, nothing quite prepares you for the full impact of the performance. From the very first moment that Robert Softley rapidly crawls onto stage to the denouement 60 minutes later where he shouts out words -- that define and break definitions, he holds everyone in his thrall with the sheer power, passion and ease of his performance.
Robert Softley (also known as Robert Softley Gale) is a remarkable man and an extraordinary performer. His CV describes him as a 5 ft 2'' green-eyed dark brown-haired wheelchair user with slightly slurred speech and shaky movements. Robert has cerebral palsy and while his disability might have impaired a bit of his speech and a fair bit of his movement, his performance as an actor is charming, sexy, unhindered and full of a life-affirming joie de vivre. If These Spasms Could Speak is a kaleidoscope into the lives of those who are differently abled but not any different from you or me. Laced with anecdotes, memories and an often tragicomic insight into the body, sexuality and self image of those who are disabled, the play presents a compelling performance tied to an equally powerful narrative.
Softley's stories of the different men and women and their struggles, their victories, their loves and their losses are told with panache and a twinkle in his eyes. The clever and artistic use of slides bring each of the varied characters that Softley plays to life -- and from the three feet tall lady in a wheelchair with 'fabulous tits' to the boy with CP (cerebral palsy) who can only eat his bowl of Weetabix when his mum ties his feet together, from the angry young teen who is surprised at growing old to the disabled mum raising an independent child, these are stories of people who laugh, cry, hate, love, curse, get drunk, get laid, marry, have babies, have surgeries, visit doctors and do regular things just like everyone else.
Softley's own display of his body is an interrogation of the body image as well as a study in kinesthetics. He uses the single prop on stage -- that of a chair and manoeuvres himself into impossible positions, sometimes stripping down to his boxers and sometimes hoisting himself up with his arms, revealing his physical constraints and his struggles with simple tasks like pulling on a T-shirt, while cracking his clever one liners, making his often risque confessions, discussing sex and men and drawing you into his life, making you an insider before you know it.
As a disabled gay man, one can only imagine Softley's multiple struggles against discrimination and for a greater inclusion into the mainstream. Yet, his play remains a subtle statement without devolving into a piece on disabled people's care or rights. For that as he puts it "one would have to enrol in a professional course in the UK and spend 400 quid on it unlike the `300 ticket that you guys would have bought for this show'.
As Robert Softley crawls off stage to a standing ovation, more than one member of the audience is shaking their head in disbelief. He has just taken you into his life and most of all his celebration of being alive with all its resultant imperfections.