Traverse, Edinburgh, 5 March 2011, and touring“KEEP PARENTS away from decision making,” says Robert Softley as the emotional temperature rises in this fascinating show by the National Theatre of Scotland. The community chorus who stand around him are momentarily lost for words. How could anyone possibly advocate such a thing? Softley backtracks a little, but he is in earnest. As a disability rights activist, he is unconvinced that parents of children with disabilities are the best ones to make choices about their children’s well-being on their behalf.
He is thinking in particular of the case of Ashley X, a little girl who was called a “pillow angel” by her parents because she never moved from the pillow where they left her. Worried that Ashley would suffer unduly from the onset of puberty and from growing too big to be comfortably cared for, they elected to give her surgery to remove her womb and halt her physical and sexual development. The parents believed they were acting in the interests of their daughter, but as Softley sees it, they were denying her a major part of what it is to be human.
As the subject for a play, the story could have ended up with two polarised extremes – pro-parent versus pro-child – and run out of steam pretty quickly. But Pol Heyvaert’s production is more complex than that. Drawing directly from discussions on internet forums, he presents a tapestry of opinions – contradictory, inconsistent, bigoted, insightful and impassioned – that never lets you rest easy in the belief your own point of view is right. Softley, who has cerebral palsy, delivers many of the most challenging arguments, but he is given a run for his money by the chorus, whose common-sense observations range from the ill-considered to the entirely justified.
Drawn from Glasgow choirs, the chorus has a funny habit of bursting into song – “Smoking has no place in porn” being the most memorably daft – and speaks most of the dialogue in unison. It creates an unusual atmosphere as they look straight out at us from Martin McNee’s striking no-man’s land set, with pencil animations by Mario Debaene projected onto its concrete-style surface. This is not a show for those who expect a conventional narrative with their night out. But for anyone who loves the cut and thrust of debate, who is prepared to accept complexity instead of certainty and who is willing to consider a subject usually politely ignored, Girl X is a compelling piece of theatre. (Pic: Drew Farrell)
© Mark Fisher 2011
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