Please note: This review – like the play itself – discusses domestic and sexual abuse. Please take care when reading and click off this article if these subjects are triggering to you.
Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th anniversary play Everyday sees the Deaf-led theatre company reassert themselves as producers of powerful, unflinching theatre. Following on from the success of her devastating adaptation of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, artistic director Paula Garfield delivers a sharp script on another subject which disproportionately affects the Deaf community: domestic and sexual abuse.
It’s a subject which, tragically, will always be timely at present. Regularly cited statistics report 22 Deaf women are at risk of domestic abuse every day, and as a community, they’re believed to be twice as likely to experience it compared to their hearing peers. Garfield carried out interviews with Deaf survivors to inform Everyday, and through a gathering of four witches, we hear some of their stories.
Witches which, by the way, aren’t the kind with cats, wart-covered noses or cauldrons – and they’re quick to point that out. They offer up a new sign for ‘witch’ – a stroke of the thumb on the forehead to mean ‘clever’ – while the cauldron is actually a teapot, containing a milky drink which some of the witches aren’t too keen on.
The atmosphere and environment is homely, a cottage kitchen comfortably established by set designer Grace Venning. Coupled with warm, glowing hues from lighting designer Ali Hunter, a difficult subject matter is handled with delicacy and sensitivity in its staging.
Much like with 4.48 Psychosis, we see once again how British Sign Language (BSL) and its unique physicality can convey the unspoken, subtle details surrounding domestic and sexual abuse. It’s the dread in a young Pan’s (Bea Webster) wide eyes as they spend another day with their exploitative grandfather, the repetitive movements demonstrating that it truly can be an everyday occurrence. It’s Lady Aine’s (Fifi Garfield) partner who enacts violence only to return to a strong, friendly hands-on-hips stature when everyone else is watching. And it’s in the brother who tells Shadow (Kelsey Gordon) the bruises and injuries he sustained were because he “fell”, and nothing more.
By being abstract in its choreography, Visual Vernacular (a form of BSL poetry gorgeously performed by VV professional Zöe McWhinney) and movement, the sinister subtext is there for audience members to unpack and process at their own pace and level of detail, which feels like the safest approach to take when one considers the calming atmosphere created on stage too.
All of that is to say that the impact isn’t minimised, however. We see a cheeky and mischievous Pan, eager to break the Macbeth superstition and pinch a jam tart, rocked by their childhood trauma. A witty Shadow is distraught at the breakdown of her family, while Lady Aine – the older figurehead of the group – recounts an affecting escape from abuse. Different forms of abuse exist, and can happen to a whole host of different people, not least within the Deaf community: hearing and Deaf relationships – where audism is another harmful tool at the abuser’s disposal; father and daughter relationships; and with partners.
And indeed, the abuse carried about by men has been generational, which brings us to Garfield’s decision to have the four characters be witches. Oppressed centuries ago and burned at the stake, it was no doubt the community which formed amongst women which went some way to fight the prejudice. Now, with Everyday, the case is made – as powerfully as ever from Deafinitely – that a community of Deaf survivors exist to support others who are suffering from abuse, and through safe conversations like the one facilitated in the production, the Deaf community can tackle the true menace in our subculture.
Once again, Deafinitely have produced vital, necessary theatre, and may it continue for 20 years more.
Everyday is now playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 11 June.
It will then embark on a UK tour, stopping at Birmingham Repertory Theatre (16-18 June), York Theatre Royal (21-22 June) and Northern Stage (24-25 June). All performances contain British Sign Language (BSL) and creative captions.
Production Images: Becky Bailey.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Everyday’ for free in exchange for a review of the press night performance as a member of the media. While I am friends with people from the cast, all opinions stated above are honest and my own, and I did not receive payment for this article.