» January 24th 2020:

Extraordinary Wall [of Silence] review – striking stories of deafness

Birmingham Hippodrome

Sign language, speech and physical storytelling come together to interrogate history – and theatre itselfDevised from 40 hours of interviews with members of the deaf community, Ad Infinitum’s Extraordinary Wall tells the contemporary narratives of Helen, Alan and Graham, setting their coming-of-age stories against a history of violence and oppression suffered by those who are deaf. Directed with precision and care by George Mann, it is part history lesson and part lecture on deafhood, but also a subtle interrogation of theatre itself.

The show is performed by an ensemble of three deaf actors (David Ellington, Matthew Gurney and Moira Anne McAuslan) and one hearing actor (Deborah Pugh). Pugh speaks aloud much of the text as the actors articulate three stories through different forms of expression: sign language, speech and physical movement. But this is more than translation. It questions how meaning is made and who gets to make it.Hands cannot sign when they are tied behind one’s back.The show creates its own visual vocabulary. The actors use physical gestures for different objects: for trees, they stand, head down, arms outstretched, bent at the elbow; for desks, a slight squat with a forearm straight out in front. Though this performance style could become reliant on cliche and exaggeration, there is a neat tension between the obviousness of some gestures and the subtlety of others: the holding of a small powder compact is mimed with absolute precision, leading to a lovely moment of self-actualisation.

Often, this feels subtly profound. While the characters’ stories are told in British Sign Language and spoken English, they are also expressed through light and music, facial expressions and touch, and a series of props that represent quite different objects (a spanner is used as microphone in a speech therapy session). The work reminds us that theatre allows, and perhaps demands, that worlds can be conjured anew each time: we can find new symbols and signs to tell stories, and both terror and beauty can be realised through shared codes and gestures. Continue reading...

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