A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Deafinitely Theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe.

A play by William Shakespeare performed in British Sign Language (BSL) by Deafinitely Theatre seemed inconceivable to some so I was most interested to see how it fared in a language that was so beautifully visual to that of the equivalent in written form. There is nothing like this available in mainstream theatre nowadays so there is a new world opening up hence making this my very first time to see a show of this nature – to experience it without having to read the synopsis in a programme during the interval.

By Deafinitely Theatre
By Deafinitely Theatre

Naturally, when a spare ticket was available after reading favourable reviews by friends, I grabbed the opportunity to seize the day and looked forwards to it tremendously, not knowing quite what to expect and experience. Just that I was “in for a real treat!” Everyone seemed eager to watch such a play of which we had all read great reviews about, inevitably making us all the more inquisitive. It seemed extremely apt that a play by Shakespeare was being performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. Seeing the Globe in all its uniqueness and glory gave me a sense of the individuality and era of the times.

The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre

I had only studied Hamlet at school and the old English still fascinates me yet how could a play by Shakespeare be transformed into sign language? The best thing to do was to forget about trying to figure it all out and just enjoy every moment, absorbing the whole atmosphere which had brought together a mixture of hearing and deaf people together. The community spirit was once again alive – this was of more importance.

Photo by Daniel Ondiz
Photo by Daniel McManus

Sounds of mystical music started to play live on stage, the performance was about to start! Faeries came alive setting the play into motion. Summarised captions were available at a certain height either side of the stage. As the show started to gain momentum, the whole experience started to be realised. “Puck” (Alim Jayda) by far was the most eye catching, who delved into character from start to finish being able to multi-task signing, acting and speaking albeit mischievously. “Bottoms” though, was my favourite as he (David Sands) managed to *really* make me laugh. “Hippolyta/Titania” simply wowed me. “She” was performed by a girl called Nadia Nadarajah, who I first met when she arrived at an old school of mine, being only 11 years old. It was such an honour to be able to watch everyone, to see how Nadia’s confidence had bloomed and who she had become since our school days. The overall passionate acting by the whole cast made up with a mixture of hearing / deaf actors and actresses some of whom are also CODA’s, well and truly brought the stage and the Globe’s spirit alive, leaving everyone feeling exceptionally impressed.

Photo by Heidi Robertson.
Photo by Heidi Kovisto-Robertson.

Watching a show, which seemed to have been adapted integrating the old with the new, in sign language – I find it immensely hard to put into words. As actions speak louder than words – some of you will know the score. The feelings, sights and sounds experience of it all I had never felt before. The sun was shining, a cool breeze could flow – a pigeon would swoop by, live refined music was being gently played setting the mood. The talking hands and body languages in silence was simply breath taking and an art form in a class of its own. Having loved each and every minute, I could now understand how a written play could be transformed into a visual yet very speech rendering show. Perhaps, not ideal for children as there was adult humour evident also. A thoroughly truly magical yet sensational and unique experience – one I would love to experience again. And again. And again!

Also one, I would highly recommend you to see.

Once the notion the show and experience of it all was ending, I felt sadness at having to leave the whole setting. Stepping through the antique doors of the Globe, it was clear as day Fate had decreed a group of old school friends were to meet once again at the very same performance on the same day, after many years!

Tammy, Louise, Andrew, Sara and Emma - Friends reunited.
Tammy, Louise, Andrew, Sara and Emma – Friends reunited

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

Other reviews:

As quoted in the The Guardian‘s review regarding Deafinitely Theatre of their 2012 Globe to Globe production of Love’s Labour’s Lost
‘Deafinitely’s aim has always been to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing audiences, and the gap gets smaller here. It’s not only a new approach for existing Shakespeare fans; it also provides a great introduction to the playwright…… Definitely, I’d say, theatre for everyone’

As quoted in a review by Laura Seymour who is writing a PhD thesis on cognitive theory and Shakespeare in performance:
“This production’s mixture of British Sign Language, visual vernacular, and other visual storytelling (always arresting even to this non-signer, though I definitely understood the sign Quince was using for ‘Bottom’), and its continual, gently atmospheric background music, perfectly encapsulates Deafinitely’s mission to provide a theatrical experience that is inclusive of both Deaf and hearing people, and both those fluent in British Sign Language and those who cannot sign.

Interestingly, the moments when I felt the audience most came together were when the converse was true of the characters: when the mechanicals made visible the gap between the Deaf and hearing characters among them. Here, moments of misunderstanding or wilful misinterpretation were a delightfully innovative way of bringing out the humour in what Shakespeare intended to be a hashed, misread, and atrociously acted play-within-a-play.”

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