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Cutting to the root of Sarah Kane’s deafening ‘4.48 Psychosis’. Words by Alim Jayda

[Alim Jayda]

Paula Garfield, the Artistic Director of Deafinitely Theatre, and I have known each other for eleven years. Our first introduction was by way of a letter when I was a young actor at drama school. Brought up a CoDA (Child of Deaf Adults), I yearned to work with like-minded professionals that could understand the world I grew up in - the people that understood the culture, the language and my identity. Paula gave me a chance and allowed me to be a part of one of Deafinitely Theatre’s scratch nights. Eleven years on, I have found myself having not only worked as an actor with them on numerous occasions, but also as a sign language Interpreter and now, most recently, as their Movement Director on their latest production of Sarah Kane’s ‘4.48 Psychosis’.

This play deals with very dark and complex themes and, due to my own personal connections with mental health, I would have had to think twice about doing any other theatre company’s production. But to be asked by Paula was a privilege. Not only because I was being asked to be at the table of the first bilingual production of this play but also because she believed in me and my abilities to assist in bringing her vision to life in a very new and unique way.

Mental health in this country, in comparison to other countries, is still very much under the radar. Our social “stiff upper lip” has taught us over the years that expressing those dark moments that can sometimes overwhelm us is weak and should be left unsaid. Things are, thankfully, slowly changing and we are embracing and understanding the journey of mental health, but why do statistics still show that more men are suffering in silence in comparison to women? Furthermore, why are there a high number of Deaf people that seem to suffer from mental health issues? Even if a deaf person acknowledges they have mental health issues, they are unable to access the services available because it is not accessible to them due to either language barriers or because they have to work with someone who has no experience of their world. Theatre is a great forum for political and social commentary so we knew that getting the message and balance right was important.

Working alongside Paula was exhilarating. Every day brought different experiences, experiments and challenges. Turning a play into a bilingual production is not the easiest of feats. You have so much to contend with - the language, the text in which it is written, the mediation of cultures but also the question of how to make it accessible for both Deaf and Hearing audiences. Having trained and worked predominately with Hearing professionals with no knowledge of the Deaf community or British Sign Language, it was a dream come true to be able to combine the two skills of sign language and choreography. The abstract nature of the play, along with Paula’s vision, allowed my creative juices to flow freely. I could be off the wall with my suggestions and explore making political comment without being too obtrusive. Being put in the room with four of the most fantastic actors allowed me to play with an idea and explore it in the most physical form possible. We weren’t just playing with the physicality of theatre; we were combining choreography and movement with visual vernacular and sign language. It was an artist’s dream! We very quickly discovered that in this mode of work, where you didn’t need words to express the text, the bilingual theatre came to life. They say Shakespeare’s words are to be played, not read, and I truly feel the same about Kane’s words.

Working in sign language requires you to quickly get to the root of the text. To get a strong translation, you need to truly understand the core meaning of the words written. We were fortunate enough to work alongside Kate Furby as the Translation Consultant and I found it fed beautifully into the movement. I found that, because we all truly explored the various meanings of the text, we were free to explore what those things meant in movement. Movement, to me, is a natural extension of one’s body and sign language was a natural extension of movement. It was exhilarating. I watched sections of text come to life that you could never dream of seeing if spoken from the page. It allowed me to see the words for the first time and feel nuances in the text that I didn’t even realise were there. The whole process has truly made me wonder why this type of theatre is not done more often. If, on this bilingual production, I have seen things in the text I had never before then why aren’t many others doing the same?

As a hearing person, we are privileged enough to be able to go to the theatre whenever we want. We don’t have to wait for an accessible show or a captioned/signed performance. In this world of theatre, however, everyone is welcome at any time and you can go to any performance. You don’t just experience the text via spoken means; you also experience it via music, movement, visual vernacular and sign language. It is a place where the perfect world seems possible. It is a world where accessible theatre is the norm. A world where you can explore things in a way no one would or could ever consider even existed in the first place. A world where Deaf and Hearing people can finally come together as equals.

It is an artist’s dining delight!

Alim Jayda