The lockdown experience was, of course, an infinitely lonely and disturbing one for many and involved living life rather differently. It was also a time for making discoveries about oneself and that is one of the key themes running through Talking Hands, five short pieces (average playing time, 20 minutes) from Deafinitley Theatre. The company has developed these five monologues, which clearly owe a debt to the work of Alan Bennett but are told through BSL signing rather than with words, in association with Paines Plough. They highlight what the pandemic was like for one particular community who became even more isolated than would normally have been the case.
The Woman I Am is both written and performed by Samantha Pearsall and starts, seemingly, as a simple tale about one person’s journey through childhood and into their adult years. That it is one that hasn’t been easy seems a given but it is not really auditory deprivation that proves to be isolatory; after all both parents and one brother are also hearing impaired. Perhaps it’s the bouts of depression or the eating disorders, though it transpires these are symptoms rather than causes. That it turns out to be something rather more deep rooted is gradually revealed and it is only at the end that everything slots into place. The piece becomes a heart warming one, well told and affirmative in its outlook.
Dara, the narrator in Life, It Goes On has also had a hard time in lockdown and is trying to make sense of it all. Diagnosed with ADHD and brimming with passion over a number of societal “causes” such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, the central character takes us on a whirlwind tour of events beyond the pandemic itself and suggests that only by staying strong and engaging within a supportive community can these modern day deficits be overcome. In truth there’s probably rather too much going on in Abigail Gorman’s script to make it fully engaging but Bea Webster’s performance is full of energy and conviction and the way a carrot is chopped up when discussing Harvey Weinstein is enough to make the viewer wince.
Lockdown Hairy, both written and performed by EJ Raymond, reveals the pandemic pressures imposed on a single parent who is also struggling with concerns about their own identity. While lockdowns provided time for reflection about what really matters they also supplied their own challenges Masks, of course, made communication for deaf people particularly difficult as did (does) authorities’ seeming inability to organise a BSL interpreter. Unlike most countries in the world, the UK couldn’t even seem to provide one on the televised government briefings. Raymond brings understandable anger to their frustration and the piece provides a call for tolerance in a range of situations. The rather odd title does make sense – eventually – and Raymond has a great line in T shirts.
If that adult had it bad, the situation for another single parent in Keeping Hope is probably even worse. Nadia Nadarajah is totally convincing as a mother of two whose daughter, Hope, has cerebral palsy and for whom the support systems have entirely collapsed. Suddenly the mother finds herself in the unvolunteered for position of solo replacement for a battery of six carers – and that’s quite apart from looking after her son and herself. Unsurprisingly after weeks of lockdown she is on the edge. Special opprobrium is reserved (quite rightly) for the Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle fiasco and the general mismanagement by health secretary Matt Hancock. Melissa Mostyn’s script doesn’t pull its punches but ends on a note of the quality after which the parent has named her daughter.
To round out the series, Cherie Gordon plays a third single parent, Lianne, in I Still Blame Myself. Mother of a five year old and sharing her flat with her own mother she faces a number of the same trials as her predecessors in the previous two pieces. Lianne is particularly concerned with her qualities as a teacher as she tries to home school her five year old while trying to take steps to enhance her own education. Well meaning but misguided outsiders message her and she tries to engage with mental health services but in the end she realises that she must make her own future for herself and her son. Lianne Herbert’s script is a bit scattergun in its approach but has a ring of authenticity.
Paula Garfield directs all five pieces in appropriate domestic settings and with sensitivity for the individual situations described. With the benefit of hindsight they made me reflect that perhaps my own lockdown experience wasn’t quite so bad after all. Like much theatre borne out of the pandemic these five short pieces should be essential viewing for our politicians and policy makers – but of course many of them are far too busy making excuses for their own inexcusable behaviour.