Friday, 11 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Extraordinary Wall Of Silence - The Old Vic, Bristol

Extraordinary Wall of Silence is an Ad Infinitum performance that mixes education and story telling through physical theatre and British Sign Language. It explores three coming of age stories in a world filled with violence, ignorance, and oppression. Our world.

The four brilliant actors on stage waste no time at all and the moment the lights come up we are informed of the Milan Conference in 1880, where it was declared that oral education (oralism) was superior and thus sign language should be banned in schools. Little to no deaf people were in attendance. This is thrown at us and we’re left precious seconds to think about it while in the intimate seating of the theatre. Suddenly we’re introduced to Alan, a man born profoundly deaf to a religious household, who’s story takes place in 1960-1980. Alan’s life is hard, even for the strongest of people, and from a young age Adam is thrown into hearing schools and told it is a sin to be deaf. We are shown his punishments at school, and the questionable staff who take advantage of him. He has no one to go to, and nowhere to turn to.

Then suddenly we’re learning the story of a young man, Graham, who loves comic books and the Incredible Hulk. The lights and stage turn green every time Graham finds himself struggling in speech therapy, and we the audience wouldn’t blame him if he put this speech therapist in her place. By now it’s obvious that there is a world of struggle that those who are deaf are subject to. The creative team behind this show have spent over forty hours interviewing the people who gave them these stories, and it shows. Physical theatre is at a peak stage of excellence and these four are weaving together stories to envelope even the most stubborn of theatregoers. Throughout, BSL is a constant, and the spoken voice is used not nearly as much. The question is, is it noticeable? If anything, the use of BSL adds to the story-telling, flowing like a stream between the words as they weave stories that are accessible for anyone.

It’s a hard-hitting performance that asks the most serious of questions and teaches you that deafness is an identity. And that there is nothing broken about a person who is deaf. The Extraordinary Wall Of Silence is at the Bristol Old Vic, and for only 75 minutes, you should be wondering why you haven’t already bought your tickets! It’s a long overdue conversation about the importance of sign language and Deaf culture, and it’s something that isn’t afraid to ask, ‘if you could prevent your baby from being deaf, would you do it?’.

Reviewer - Aidan Bungey
on - 10/10/19

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