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Playing God, Times Online

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The Times Online is carrying a review of Playing God, produced by Deafinitely Theatre. Should you wish to go and see this production, a direct link to the play's page on the theatre's website can be found here.

Playing God Jeremy Kingston at the Soho Theatre, W1 July 27, 2007

Best to get the awful pun out of the way first. This play is presented by the only professional, deaf-led theatre company in the country, and the company’s name is Deafinitely Theatre. On the other hand, its West London HQ is the Beethoven Centre. I like that.

Over several plays DT has presented the arguments for remaining deaf, and this is the mainspring for Paula Garfield’s first play, co-written by Rebecca Atkinson with contributions from the company. One of the five actors is identified as deaf in her biography but there’s no certainty about whether the other actors, or the production team, have disabilities, although Atkinson writes about sight loss in a weekly column for The Guardian.

But their position on the hearing spectrum isn’t specially important since most of them are interpreters or have mastered British Sign Language, and clearly all are keen to correct misunderstandings about deafness.

Garfield, who also directs, offers us two contrasting couples. John and Emma are deaf, and the dilemma they face is whether to give their four-year-old daughter, also deaf, a cochlear implant. This will enable her to become a full member of the human race, says Alex, a surgeon. He doesn’t actually declare this in so many words but the assumption energises all his arguments.

The bone of contention between him and his wife Alison is whether to send their own four-year-old to a private school. Alex likewise regards this as a passport to a whole life, so he is clearly a baddie, and his coaxing of Emma to agree to an implant must be the work of a devil playing God.

The play’s great gap is the absence of a scene marking Emma’s change of heart. She and John have proclaimed the importance of belonging to their deaf community; now she abandons this position without a mention of the likely loss of rapport with her daughter after the child no longer needs to sign.

Though Peter Abraham’s Alex dismisses this community as claustrophobic, it was animatedly (and silently) present in the audience. It was puzzling, therefore, why neither the bright but troubled Emma (Sandra Duguid) nor the anguished John seeks its help.

There were good performances from both, and Gurney’s closing distress is persuasive, but by not demonstrating the proclaimed value of deafness Garfield’s slender arguments for and against implants work against the play’s value as drama.

Box office: 0870 4296883

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