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16 October 2009

photo of male and female Deaf actors Deafinitely Theatre Company

Matthew Gurney and Caroline Parker rehearsing for Double Sentence

Image: Deafinitely Theatre Company

Double Sentence presents some new departures in style for Deafinitely Theatre Company with its use of stage text. Alan McLean saw the production at the Arena Theatre Wolverhampton on 1 October 2009.

Firstly, the show had a real impact before it started. It was a full house with many people using BSL, text messages. Promoting the show using social networking sites had clearly been very successful. People really wanted to see this show. It had touched them before they had arrived.

The idea to reveal a deaf man's experience of prison was a strong one. It amplified the oppression, highlighting the bigotry and fear that deaf people encounter on a day to day basis. It delivered the idea of 'normality' as the absence of humanity. Historically Deaf people have been made to adopt oralism, rather than BSL. Early scenes in the play, echoed the infamous European agreements about oralism in education.

The show commanded attention, for a Deaf show the sound track was powerful, atmospheric and rhythmic, guiding the pace of the show. The stage design and pace of the show mixed naturalism with a non-naturalistic formal style. Bringing these two styles together is difficult. A part of the story - the romance - failed to be believable because you experienced the relationship in slices. I don't think the audience cared about this in the way I did. It was clear the plays' comic elements, although at times dark, were warmly received.

The show used stage text (or written English surtitles), bringing another layer to the performance. It was a move away from the actors using BSL throughout the show. The prison officer's use of stage text was symbolic of the way BSL is replaced by written English and was a successful subtext within the story, even if it was not without risk for the company. The audience were largely BSL users so did not respond as well, to the parts which were not BSL signed. There was less of an immediate response to the scenes, when stage text was being used. This is a new approach for the company, and may well prove to be a tool which widens their audience, taking them to bigger venues in the future.

However, I thought the show underdeveloped. Not surprising considering the ambitiousness of the project and that this was only the third night of a short tour. I would be confident given my experience of previous Deafinitely shows that this ambitious new style of mixing naturalism with a highly successful visual physical style will lead to new methods which will increase their bookings in the future.

Click on this link for an earlier review of a preview of this show by Melissa Mostyn

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