Extraordinary Wall of Silence was a defiant treat for the senses. A range of smaller acts that created a flowing montage of experiences, history and education spun us through an 80-minute performance that ended up fitting in more than I had expected, and left me wanting to learn to sign.
The format of the show was highly unique. I have, on occasion, seen British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters either at the bottom of the screen of a TV show or, more recently, at a festival at the side of a stage. But, in this case, the BSL was the focus. The whole of the show was told bilingually, with spoken and signed language, but the sign was definitely no afterthought.
Lighting throughout the performance was high enough to be able to see what performers were saying and on the occasion that the lights went out, the speaking also stopped.
A humorous segment showed a couple trying to have sex with the hearing person repeatedly turning the lights off and the deaf person trying to explain that they need the lights on to be able to communicate.
The performance was done through a mixture of dance and acting, with stories playing out that seemed to illustrate all of the barriers faced by deaf people, as well as the discrimination faced on a daily basis now and in the recent past.
While I did get the message that this play was largely a celebration of deaf culture, it was not afraid to show the difficulties of being deaf. The main cause, however, is not a “loss of hearing”, but, rather, an expectation that deaf people want to be able to hear and speak. This is done in a variety of ways including surgery on newborns and oralism – the idea that lip reading and speech therapy is a better way to teach deaf children than sign language (spoiler alert: it’s not).
Throughout it all was a strand of intense truth. The stories were those of the actors on stage but also of people they knew and people they did not know in their community. They were the stories that get passed around, the ones that everyone has.
While many of them felt very personal, I also got the sense that many of these stories were universal and showed the reasons behind the need for community specific spaces, but also for a greater level of accommodation by hearing people.
Extraordinary Wall of Silence runs at HOME until 22nd February.