Every year, Deafinitely Theatre hold a showcase of short plays by four young deaf writers who have won their place on the Deafinitely Creative scheme. Charlie Swinbourne began his own scriptwriting career with the company back in 2006, so he went along to review this year’s intake.
You’re one of four writers attending ten workshops over the course of three months. Then a director picks up your script, brings a cast together, they rehearse and next thing you know, your play is being performed to over 100 people in a theatre. It’s a nerve-wracking, exposing process. It’s also invaluable; a miniature version of how real theatre works that teaches writers where they’re going wrong - and right.
Last night, I saw four very different plays at Deafinitely Theatre’s 4Play 2012 showcase, by four young deaf writers. Two of the plays were dark, two were light (well, one of the light ones was a bit dark too), but each had a clear focus at its heart.
The showcase began with ‘A Sweet Slice’ by Stephen Collins. We see Joe (played by Brian Duffy) running desperately away from something, but we’re not sure what it is. Boxes are placed on stage - presents that Joe may not want to open. This story is about confronting reality, and the visual motif of boxes (or reality) being unwrapped or packed is returned to, neatly near the end. Like Collins’s film ‘Luke Starr,’ this play has some surreal ideas that ultimately become topical and thought-provoking.
‘Confusions of a Shadow Boxer’ by Matthew Gurney at first seemed to be a straightforward examination of a tortured mind that was also a comment on the mental health system’s attitude towards deaf people. But then an unexpected twist at the end turned the whole story on its head. You’re suddenly presented with a question about deaf identity that hangs over you right the way through the interval and beyond. This shouldn't be underestimated - there’s a real skill in structuring a play like this so that you catch the audience unawares and make your point.
After the interval, two plays offering some light relief arrived. Lianne Herbert’s ‘TwentyFortySeven’ is a satire set in 2047 that turns the world on its head by painting a picture of a dystopian (or possibly utopian, depending on which side you’re on) world where a deaf government has taken over, banning speech.
Soon, a young couple are forced to improve their signing to a level that is deemed acceptable by the authorities. Several scenes are laugh-out loud funny and the reversal of the expected cleverly leaves you considering our own world. The concept is fantastic, and I would say that Herbert is a writer well worth watching.
The clear stand-out play of the night however, was the comedy 'Absence in Time' by Vitalis Katakinas. The play was entirely visually told - in the style of a silent film where scenes are not communicated in English or in sign language, but physical movement and mime (aside from the odd powerpoint slide, giving lines in silent film style).
The story is about a Russian couple who are separated when the man goes to London to work: the train journey where the man travels through various passport checkpoints was hilarious. The play was accessible to everyone - and clearly played to the strengths of its deaf actors in allowing them to project themselves physically for comic effect.
This brought back memories of what I feel is the standout Deafinitely Theatre play, ‘Motherland,’ which had many visual sequences that conveyed aspects of the story. ‘Absence in Time’ could easily have kept the audience transfixed for a further hour, and should be considered for further development. Deaf audiences could certainly do with a full-length comedy. Along with Katakinas, director Daryl Jackson deserves great credit.
I’ve been to every Deafinitely Creative showcase since 2006 and I would say that this is the best set of plays I’ve seen in that time, including the showcase I was part of. It’s no exaggeration to say that here there was a rare kind of confidence in each story that gives great hope for these four writers’ next projects.
Deafinitely Theatre: 4Play 2012 is on at RADA Studios (previously The Drill Hall) until Saturday 25th February. For more information, go to: http://www.deafinitelytheatre.co.uk/index.php?plid=107