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Theatre Review More an open therapy session than a play

The production misses the opportunity to bring us essential drama in the form of true character development, writes MARY CONWAY

Everyday
Deafinitely Theatre at New Diorama

DEAFINITELY THEATRE has a proud history as the first ever deaf-launched and deaf-led theatre company.

For 20 years, it has presented highly acclaimed bilingual productions, using both British Sign Language and spoken English.

Its latest offering, Everyday, commissioned by New Diorama Theatre, boasts a splendid array of talent, and confirms once again the artistic legitimacy of prioritising sign language over spoken words when connecting with an audience and conveying tears and laughter in equal measure.

Sign language, it shows us, is not a second-choice compromise — far from it — and bilingual productions of this kind can easily compete at the top level of theatre.

In the spirit of true inclusivity, the four cast members are deaf while also representing the non-binary community.

But it is interesting that, despite their technical prowess and specific credentials, the company prefer to settle here for simple literal personal accounts rather than dramatic complexity.

While serving as a mouthpiece for those who feel marginalised and wounded by the world, the play misses the opportunity to bring us essential drama in the form of true character development.

Not that what we see is not extremely affecting. For the stories the actors bring us all tell of past powerlessness in the face of domestic abuse — a shocking catalogue.

The physical portrayal of each character through facial tremors, hand gestures and graphic body language is spellbinding, and actors Fifi Garfield, Cherie Gordon, Zoe McWhinney and Bea Webster take us to their hearts.

Also, you don’t have to be a signing buff yourself to imbibe all that’s going on, spoken words and back-projected text alongside these splendid performances ensuring that no-one misses out. All is beautifully told and exquisitely acted.

But the effect is to leave the audience in unrelenting misery with only hints at the saving power of togetherness.

Where hope does appear is in Grace Denning’s superb set, where the warmth and tranquility of an exquisitely detailed living space suggests comfort and harmony and the William Morris-inspired backdrops, in particular — with their pastels and colour washes, flowers and butterflies, sweeping tendrils and basking cats — offer an alternative space for the imagination where the characters  can live without pain.

Company founder and artistic director Paula Garfield has written and directed, and presents important insights into the loneliness of people who carry past hurts.

But the piece ends up more an open therapy session than a play. And where it could assert the essential equality and value of people who have felt like victims, it essentially misses this epiphany.

Until June 11 2022. Box office (020) 7383-9034, newdiorama.com.

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