A key part of most people’s theatre experience is the dialogue. Along with the aesthetics of what happens on stage, the sound, music and speech is key in the creation of story. For deaf audiences theatre has exactly the same aims – to create a story with emotion and impact – but uses a different range of techniques to build the scenes.
Theatre group Deafinitely are specialists in their field, with the unique approach of being performed by and for both deaf and hearing audiences. Their latest play Two is currently being performed at the Southwark Playhouse, and is an impressively woven piece.
The play centres around a pub-owning couple, their clientele, and the relationship between the couple and the punters. The story unfolds through a series of wryly observed scenes based on the pub’s customers. As people coupled up, argued or simply fell to pieces, the publicans took on the various roles of matchmaker, counsellor, or shoulder to cry on. The variety of scenes created an interesting impression of the life of a landlord. Throughout the play there’s a tension between the pubs owners, which builds uncomfortably before reaching a final surprising denouement. As a story arc it’s quite simple, but well observed and interesting to watch.
…the signing actors is so expressive that it’s evident what’s happening even without understanding sign language…
The most fascinating aspect of the play was the mechanics of how it worked. The cast is made up of four players, two of whom sign while the other two speak their performances. An on stage caption screen ensures that the action is accessible to anyone in the audience. However the performances of the signing actors is so expressive that it’s evident what’s happening even without understanding sign language. At times, mirroring techniques are used to great impact; the four cast members splitting into two pairs, both performing the same script, but one using spoken language and the others using sign.
It was an unusual experience but surprisingly impactful, with a great range of characters and brilliant comic moments among the serious character driven pieces. A play that winds around three different methods of communication has quite a challenge to undertake, but the end performance is accessible to the entire audience without feeling impacted by its complicated set-up. Two is a really ambitious play, and a great piece of character-driven theatre, well worth seeing.