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Published on Wednesday, 25 August 2010

3 stars

theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
6 - 28 Aug (not 8, 15, 22), 3.05pm (3.55pm)
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

Although he suffers from a degenerative disorder, Paul Betney stands larger than life on stage.  That’s not just because he’s well over 6ft tall; his passion for life, and his commitment to raise awareness of Parkinson’s “disease” through rendition of his own life story, connect him with the audience straight away.  Particularly striking too was the obvious fact that he’s in his 40s, and therein lies part of his message: to challenge the popular assumption is that this is an illness which, if it strikes at all, strikes only very late in life.

Betney was diagnosed just one and a half years ago, but that came after 18 years of medical attention to symptoms which became impossible to ignore at 22.  Through trial and error he has finally found drugs which adequately combat these symptoms, and surprisingly, it was only from the prescription that the medical profession identified the source of his physical difficulties.  During Betney’s talk, you’ll learn about Parkinson’s historic discovery of the disease, running through a potted yet detailed summary of symptoms and statistics to explain its nature and effect.  (Chatting at the end, he told me that it afflicts 1 in 500 of the population, up to 10% of whom are ‘younger’ people.)

‘My name is Paul Betney’ he began with confidence, and showed a video clip of himself doing stand-up a few years ago.  The clip showed him standing before the audience… his limbs shaking, shaking, shaking.  In the video, he didn’t speak – giving the audience time to get used to the Parkinson’s – a wise decision, so that attention might then be focussed on the act to come.  But the Paul Betney we now see live on stage has little need for such tactics; the transformation brought about by the new medication is astonishing.

In a second clip designed to emphasise how ‘normal’ he was as a boy – or was he showing off? – we watch Betney on TV’s Blockbusters (dig that 70s outfit!)  Nothing then hampered his reflex in hitting the buzzer with the correct answer.  But Betney’s personal journey from that point travels from overwhelming  confusion at the sudden onset of his symptoms, to diagnosis and beyond.

He relates how profoundly his life was changed by finding drugs that worked.  The up-side is obvious, but he also discovered a gap which had been previously filled with managing his medication and dealing with the effects of the illness.  Having built a show – and lived a life – around shaking, he felt forced to reassess his purpose.

Notwithstanding his having now reached a manageable equilibrium owing to the medication he takes, Betney’s life must still be extraordinarily difficult at times – though hugely improved, he does still shake, worsening if he’s nervous or having on a bad day.  Yet Betney is inspiring as much for the absence of bitterness in his delivery as his commitment to choosing to live as full a life as anyone.

Sadly, there were only a few of us in the audience, which Betney freely admitted has been the case on most days - and those attending have usually had some personal experience with the disease themselves. His disappointment is only that he wishes to educate the wider public about Parkinson’s.  Perhaps this show would do better billed as a talk; it’s not dramatic in a theatrical style, but would appeal to those whose interest extends beyond theatre or the strictly personal.  That said, this was an illuminating and courageously candid performance, and I wish him well.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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