Friday, 5 November 2010


3/11/10, Royal Court

A play by Nina Raine about deafness, about belonging (to a family, the deaf community or some other "tribe"), about communication and language. Featuring a deaf actor, Jacob Casselden, as the third child in an otherwise noisy, opinionated, argumentative and not wholly-functional hearing family of academics, would-be academics and musicians. It's a measure of her skill that I thought his girlfriend, the hearing child of a deaf family who is herself going deaf, was also played by a deaf actress, Michelle Terry; except that Terry (we saw her in England People Very Nice and London Assurance at the National) isn't deaf, she just gets the slightly false emphases, the dodgy timing of the deaf and hard of hearing bang on.

The early part of the play neatly established the family milieu. Especially the problems of adult children returning home (the rows about nicked socks and smoking in the greenhouse). The characters were neatly sketched in: dominating Dad (Stanley Townsend), full of information and himself, joking, bullying, relishing his reputation for blunt speaking; peace-making Mum (Kika Markham), for ever interceding and mediating. We see them first at table, noisily (that word again) arguing, with the deaf child the oddly silent one.

His sense of exclusion from his talkative family fuels his enthusiasm for belonging to another tribe, that of the deaf. Ironically his girlfriend, as the play progresses, rebels against her position as a member of another (small) tribe, that of the deaf activist.

There is (from memory, three weeks later) more cleverly-written dialogue about tribes and their membership, but I've forgotten it.

There were some good things in this, but it was spoilt by being overly schematic and melodramatised. The son home from university and nominally working on a masters was convincing until he turned out to be a drug addict and reformed stutterer and no longer plausible. The sister (a tyro opera-singer played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who we saw at the Soho in Roaring Trade) was underwritten.

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