Devised by The Company
Directed by George Mann
This is a genuinely fascinating production which is a clever blend of BSL verbatim theatre, history lecture (in the best sense) and part physical storytelling performance. In Extraordinary Wall [of Silence] 40 hours of interviews with deaf people are condensed into 3 personal experiences of being deaf and are further highlighted by a history guide to the oralist tradition. The fateful and deeply flawed decision made at Congress on the Education of the Deaf in 1880 attempted to wipe out sign language and had a profoundly negative impact on the education and lived experiences of the deaf community.
Staged within Anna Orton’s stark white set, the performance demands our absolute focus as this bright white ensures that every BSL word is crystal clear. I now absolutely understand and appreciate the need for bright lighting as used in Deaf Clubs – if signing is your means of communication then you need to see and be seen. This is wonderfully illustrated in Graham’s story as Matthew Gurney acts out the risks of sexual communication in the dark when Graham and his partner attempt oral sex.
The three stories are in parts heartbreaking and hilarious. The performances are incredibly nuanced and tenderly informed as they blend physical storytelling with the expressive vibrancy of BSL and an orated performance by Deborah Pugh. Moments in Alan’s story with David Ellington where words are extraneous are dealt with exquisitely such as the first attempts exploring his mother’s make up or the blistering sexual assault by a teacher. Moira Anne McAuslan is a powerhouse of rage and indignation as she evokes Helen who suffered invasive procedures such as cochlear implants in the name of progress and her best interests. Parents lovingly attempting their best for their child in a society that sees deafness as something to be fixed left their daughter at sea in a world of hearing people where she just experienced horrible noise and ill equipped in the deaf community where she had never learned BSL. Graham’s experiences led a profoundly happy and confident deaf child with deaf parents to attempt suicide because of his brutal experiences in a hearing school and sheer ignorance in the workplace.
These stories highlight the ignorance around deafness and the often callous and ludicrous assumptions made by a non deaf society. Ad Infinitum have shone a blistering white light on the importance of maintaining Deaf Clubs and the damage done by the oralist tradition and the extraordinary wall [of Silence] that received the 1979 Conrad Report which eviscerated the idea that sign language was not a vital language of expression and an essential educational tool. This production is an out and loud retaking of deaf history and a bold statement to those developing new gene editing tools that Deafhood is here to stay and as Helen says I don’t need fixing!