Saturday, 6 October 2012

Theatre review: Tanika's Journey

Deafinitely Theatre were one of the companies contributing to this year's Globe to Globe festival, bringing their British Sign Language storytelling to Love's Labour's Lost. As one of Shakespeare's more verbally dexterous plays I found that silent treatment to have mixed results, but now in a new production at Southwark Playhouse' Vault they present a simpler story, devised by the company. A group of refugees is trudging through a frozen Russian forest. Exhausted, deaf Tamil refugee Tanika (Nadia Nadarajah) collapses in the snow, refusing her guide's (Graeme Brookes) attempts to give her food. As she appears to have given up, she flashes back to her earlier life in Sri Lanka with her family (Mouna Albakry, Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke) and English BSL teacher Edward (Matthew Gurney) who convinces her she needs to try and flee to London; as well as slipping into fantasies of her future life should she finally manage to complete her journey.

Tanika's Journey moves between spoken English, BSL, and a combination of the two to tell its story. If Love's Labour's Lost reminded me of a silent movie, Tanika's Journey is a bit more like a dance piece (Frantic Assembly's Naomi Said is credited as a movement consultant.) So, like a ballet, the story is told through often elegant movement, and as an audience member who doesn't know any BSL I wasn't alienated, although I felt like I was perhaps missing a few of the story's subtleties.

Simon Daw's set makes good use of the Vault's atmospheric space, filled with plastic snow, to create a convincing clearing in the forest (the space's natural temperature doesn't hurt with the verisimilitude of the location) and Ben Rogers' lighting streams through the bare tree branches1 to create some stunning visuals. Although as the show's staged in traverse, it's unfortunate that the actors are frequently backlit: People communicating through sign language seem to use facial expressions to convey a lot of additional information, so it's a shame that a lot of the time we can't see their expressions. Tanika's Journey is perhaps a bit too short to really satisfy, and I found the ending both abrupt and inconclusive. But it does mark another significant step in Deafinitely's ongoing efforts to bring deaf arts into the mainstream, and the many hearing-impaired audience members at this afternoon's performance seemed enthralled.

Tanika's Journey by Deafinitely Theatre is booking until the 20th of October at Southwark Playhouse's Vault.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

1the production is geared towards both deaf and hearing audiences, although it might want to spare a thought for the blind as well since it might accidentally create a few more of them: Audience members sitting on the far bank of seating have to traverse a hazardous path through the trees.

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