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More Reviews of Playing God, Deafinitely Theatre

playinggod.jpgDeafinitely Theatre's 'Playing God' (a play about cochlear implants) is still getting reviews in the mainstream press.

BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 last Friday covered this issue. For those people who are hearing its the 0830 - 0900 slot, where you can listen to the programme. There's no transcript on their website - a major shortcoming of the BBC, and something they've been pulled up on in the past. Said they would always provide a transcript on their website for deaf content, but hey, history has the habit of repeating itself.

More Reviews: Guardian x2 & Evening Standard

The Guardian reviewed this twice here and here, plus I'm also aware of the This is London (Evening Standard), plus the Times Online (which was previously blogged about).

The Arts as an effective medium to communicate a political message?

Whatever these issues, and how much the mainstream likes to impose their norms which influences reviews, it brings an interesting point how you can get a political message across via the arts. The point is: the message is getting raised in the media. Anyone who is familiar with activism or campaigning, will be familiar with how it is sometimes difficult to get the media to take note of your cause, and include it in their output. A message through the arts adds another angle, and can be a learning point for us all. Spread out efforts across all possibilities, and reach to different audiences. Sending out a message through this art form targets the theatre crowd (this is showing at a West End venue), and reaching to those who would be inclined to read art reviews, who perhaps otherwise might be apathetic to such issues.

Perhaps more politics should be distributed through art forms, as it becomes a more acceptable and mainstream way of getting a message across, something hardcore activism such as demos cannot? I'm not dismissing the latter, just standing back and thinking about impact here.

What do you think?

Full text of the reviews are in the extended entry for this post, mainly so the text can be accessed at future dates.

See also:
Playing God, Times Online

Photo Credit: This is London

From the Guardian Unlimited:

Playing God ** Soho Theatre, London Lyn Gardner Monday July 30, 2007

Like their daughter Ruby, they are both deaf. John and Emma always will be, but their daughter Ruby has a chance to join the hearing world. If your child was blind and the possibility arose that, through medical intervention he or see would be able to see, would you not want that for your child? Even if you yourself were blind, and would never be able to have that opportunity.

But for some in the deaf world, the issue of cochlear implants is contentious. They believe that deafness should not be "fixed" and that people should be proud to be deaf and part of a community that has its own vibrant means of communication - sign language. John is one of those people.

On Friday evening, there was rather more theatre going on among the audience before the show as individuals signed with each other, often from great distances across the auditorium, than there was in Deafinitely Theatre's piece, which looks at the conflict created in a marriage when the partners want different things for their children.

This is very much issue-based theatre, and though Paula Garfield's production integrates sign language in telling theatrical ways and has some nice moments, it seldom brings the issues to life. In part, it is because, apart from a final moving monologue in which John talks of how his daughter's "deafness died" as she starts to hear and gives up sign language, the writing is pretty humdrum. Also the choice faced by the smug hearing family - private versus state education - is hardly on a par with the decision facing John and Emma.

There are some spirited performances, but while it is very welcome to see disability arts getting gigs at established venues, in this instance I couldn't help feeling that Deafinitely is definitely over-exposed.

Until August 4. Box office: 0870 429 6883.

From the Guardian Unlimited's Art's Blog:

When will mainstream theatre embrace disabled companies?

Work by outfits like Graeae, Amici, CandoCo and Deafinitely Theatre deserves a much bigger stage.

Mainstream theatre is not known for taking much notice of its minority members. Many critics remain alarmingly ignorant about theatre from the disability grassroots. One reviewer who shall remain nameless went so far as to criticise a theatre production recently for surtitles specifically aimed at deaf audience members.

Right now, theatre produced by disabled artists is on a roll. Graeae, Wolfgang Stange's Amici, CandoCo and the work of Matt Fraser, Nabil Shaban and Caroline Parker are proof of how drama can allow different communities to communicate. Yet there continues to be one overriding criterion by which society seems to judge disabled people, and that is one of reduction or loss. But as Rebecca Atkinson pointed out last week, the issues are far from straightforward.

This week, I watched as the most powerful of arguments was made in the cause of self-definition. Deafinitely Theatre, a deaf-led company, was set up five years ago by Paula Garfield with Steven Webb and Kate Furby. On Wednesday night they premiered a new work, Playing God, at the Soho theatre. Its subject is a controversial one, cochlear implants - a medical intervention that can offer assistance to those with inherited hearing disorders.

But suppose some don't want that assistance. In the play, a young father (played by Matthew Gurney) is deeply opposed to his young daughter being pushed into having an implant before the age of five by a well-meaning doctor, and an even more well-meaning mother. He makes the most eloquent of cases for those whose deaf identity is one of pride. "We're a deaf family," he says. "I watched [after the operation] as the bandages came off and the magnet went on. I watched as her eyes flickered in wonderment. As she moved her lips and words begun to tumble off her tongue ... I stood back and watched as my daughter's deafness died." All of this was communicated by Gurney using sign language, aided by voiceover for non-signing members of the audience.

If theatre is about transmitting vital messages, then productions like Playing God or Graeae's Blasted are surely leading the way in shattering old boundaries. Thus far, mainstream theatre appears not to have caught up but the stage offers great potential for us to communicate more powerfully.

Playing God

Dir: Paula Garfield.
Cast: Andrea Newland, Peter Abraham, Sandra Duguid, Matthew Gurney, Jo McCaul

If you were the parents of a deaf child, many people would suppose you would take advantage of any medical advancement that could help that child to hear. But what if you were deaf yourself? Would you resent the idea of giving your child access to the hearing world just because that world insists it's superior? And how jealously would you guard your child's identity as a member of the deaf community?

This them and us mentality is at the centre of Playing God, a new play from Deafinitely Theatre that features deaf and non-deaf actors and which incorporates speech and sign language to tell a tug of war love story over a deaf child.

John and Emma, both deaf, have no qualms about how to bring up their young deaf daughter Ruby until Emma meets ear surgeon Alex. He gradually persuades Emma that Ruby has to have a cochlear implant if she is to stand any chance of developing her speech, much to the fury of John.

In examining the ensuing conflict, Rebecca Atkinson's somewhat simplistic script houses two fundamentalist points of view. Alex's messianic belief in cochlear implants and the desire to eliminate deafness completely verges alarmingly on ideas about physical purity (and he is caricatured by Peter Abraham as a bit of a megalomaniac). Meanwhile John, who was virtually disowned by his hearing family, prefers to define himself in direct opposition to the hearing world, rather than alongside it.

Paula Garfield's production feels rather stilted (the use of soft toys to represent young children is particularly unsatisfactory) and too often resembles a staged debate. Atkinson also needs to dig much deeper into her characters to avoid them feeling like little more than mouthpieces.

The rather extreme ending could do with more psychological upholstery to make it convincing, too. Nonetheless, the parallel - and effective - use of signed and spoken language neatly embodies the idea that deafness and hearing should, and can, complement each other. It's also a neat dramatic device that raises associated and pertinent questions about what actually constitutes language.

Comments (1)

Politics and art can and do mix. They range from the grand narrative, historical to the personal. They cna be overt or covert. After all, think Bob Dylan [the singer/ songwriter].

Tho' we gotta be careful not to be didactic or strident, otherwise the pelaseure that we get from art, will be muted.

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