Theatre review: Deafinitely Theatre’s ‘4Play’

First published in the March 2011 issue of the Hearing Times.

Last summer, four up and coming deaf writers won the chance to put their own thirty-minute plays on stage as part of the Deafinitely Creative project. After a series of workshops led by Andrew Muir over the last five months, I was lucky enough to go along and see the result of their hard work on stage, with a sell-out crowd.

First off, Julian Peedle-Calloo’s The Silent Royals (directed by Paula Garfield) was an interesting spin on the story of Jack the Ripper, told through the story of a prince who falls in love with a deaf prostitute. Peedle-Calloo had clearly done his homework, finding out all about the 1800s, then putting that background into his story, which moved at a rapid pace through scenes set in the street, the royal household and a brothel. After seeing this, I’m already looking forward to his next project – a short film for the BSLBT also set in the past. Like this play, it will look at deaf people’s lives at a time when their lives were far harder than today and will clearly benefit from this experience.

I felt Tomato Lichy’s Chloe’s Price (directed by Andrew Muir) was the play of the night, showing a great economy of dialogue and scene length. His story revealed its secrets slowly, his script felt honed, and the play had some very funny moments. Starring just two actors, this was a story about a deaf man who befriends a woman in the park, who sits there every day with her baby. However, as they get to know each other, from being lighthearted, events take a sinister turn. Of all the plays, this was the one I wanted to see again, and would have great potential as a short film, with several fantastic twists that mean you’re never sure, until the end, what’s really happening and who the characters really are.

The most dramatic play of the evening was Red Flags, by Sannah Gulamani. This story featured two talented young deaf actors as different sides of Luke, a soldier struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Stephen Collins played Luke in real life, desperately trying to move on with life after war (and hold on to his relationship), despite being tormented by David Sands, as his taunting, wise-cracking alter-ego. As well as dealing with issues that affect us today, this was also the only play of the night that wasn’t specifically deaf themed – the script could have also been effectively played by hearing actors. Without taking anything away from the other plays, it was great to see a young deaf playwright tackle wider contemporary issues in a powerful piece that built up to a heartbreaking, explosive finale. Special credit should go to Daryl Jackson, who made his theatre directing debut with this play, supported by Graeae’s Jenny Sealey.

The final play was Donna Williams’ Many Shades of Disappointment (directed by Paula Garfield) which took a fresh angle in tackling future developments in gene therapy and how they might affect deaf people who want to have deaf children. Starting with a humorous scene in which a deaf woman is interviewed on a TV chat show, the action then jumps forward to the future, where we realise that despite her efforts, her now grown-up daughter was born hearing. Williams went on to tackle the effect on their relationship in some depth, ultimately asking the question of what makes deaf and hearing people the same, and different from each other.

I was really impressed with the range of stories put on stage, and excited about the stories these young writers will go on to create. Organising projects like these are hard work, and everyone at Deafinitely Theatre deserves a lot of credit for helping the next generation of writers to break through.