Landscape - 2000

Programme Cover

Oval House Theatre, London, 29November - 16 December 2000, in a double bill with
Mountain Language

In British Sign Language

Cast Tandem Theatre Company:
Jeni Draper, Frank Essery, Neil Fox, Lee O'Brien, Caroline Parker, John Paton, Steven Webb and Simon Whitehouse

Directed by Jessica Higgs

Designer - Kate Owen
Lighting - Aideen Malone

Review by Lyn Gardner
Harold Pinter's plays take on a new depth of meaning in this intriguing double bill presented by a new company, In Tandem. The actors are all deaf, and the plays are performed in British Sign Language. For those in the audience who cannot understand BSL, there are spoken interpretations. This is, of course, the opposite of what normally happens in the theatre, where the actors speak and there are occasional sign-interpreted performances.
What immediately strikes you is that this is no gimmick, and nor is it merely a service to the hard of hearing. The 20-minure Mountain Language inspired by the plight of the Kurdish people in Turkey, is about oppressed people who are denied the right to speak their own language. Until recently, well-meaning but misguided ideas about assimilation into the mainstream meant that deaf children were often denied the right to use BSL and forced to communicate vocally. But eveb if you were oblivious of the history of BSL, Jessica Higgs's production of the brief play in which bullyboy soldiers intimidate a group of women trying to visit their imprisoned husbands has a stark clarity. It is as if the gestrual expressiveness of BSL means all of Pinter's pauses are filled up. But as fast as they are, more gaping holes appear.
That is even more the case in the second play, Landscape, in which a middle-aged married couple talk but do not communicate as they pursue their own train of thought with monologues that have echoes of each other.
Here, sign language and the spoken interpretation meld perfectly: it is like seeing the manifestation of layer uoon layer of hidden emotion as what is said, and what is meant and felt, the external and the internal, slide into each other in dramatic harmony. It strikes me that something has been achieved here that neither sign oanguage nor the spoken word alone can do.
Both plays are beautifully designed and authoritatively perforemd, and this evening in the theatre is not just a quirky experiment but the real thing.
The Guardian, December 2000

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