Robert Softley is telling the true story of a girl whose parents put her through surgery rather than let her face the onset of an adulthood which, they felt, would only make her profound disabilities worse. The actor is surrounded by a 16-strong community chorus and, as he describes the girl's condition, they break into sympathetic song. With a look of horror, he asks them what they're doing. "We're a choir – that's what choirs do," they reply in unison.
It's one of several laugh-out-loud moments in this politically thrilling production created by Softley and director Pol Heyvaert for the National Theatre of Scotland. "I hate choirs," says Softley as he rails against the mainstream sentimentalisation of people with disabilities. In an already emotive debate about disability rights, he has no time for the manipulative choral soundtracks so beloved of Hollywood.
The actor, however, is outnumbered. When the choir arrive on stage – a brilliantly realised concrete underpass enhanced by pencil-drawn animations – they point in our direction and say they are here with the audience. Softley, a wheelchair user, is taking on the lot of us, with our common-sense opinions ranging from patronising liberal compassion to anti-PC indignation.
What's so compelling about Girl X – adapted from heated discussions on internet forums and frequently going off on funny tangents in the way such discussions do – is the argument never settles. Softley is the most articulate, the best briefed and the most inclined to challenge conventional thinking ("Would you fuck me?" he demands of those who claim to respect him as a human being), but the choir frequently seem more pragmatic and less extreme. The conflicting and contradictory viewpoints create the opposite of agitprop and, in its way, something more politically radical, opening up a complex, unsettling debate that does not stop at the curtain call. (Pic Drew Farrell)
© Mark Fisher 2011
More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion