Writer and Director: Paula Garfield
The image of witches’ covens, cackling, ghoulish women plotting nefarious deeds over a bubbling cauldron, has its roots in misogyny. In the patriarchal world, women with knowledge are something to fear, so folklore paints them as evil, misshapen, less than human, and therefore damnable.
Even in British Sign Language, as Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th anniversary production Everyday tells us, the sign for ‘witch’ is a large hooked nose. Paul Garfield’s play presents us with a modern coven, meeting in a country kitchen with floral wallpaper and crocheted throws over the backs of chairs. In place of a cauldron is a brewing pot of (possibly quite disgusting) lavender tea. And to replace the archaic sign, the four witches on stage opt for a replacement: drawing a thumb across the forehead – the sign for “clever”.
But while some fun is to be had with witches in folklore – Scottish performer Bea Webster refuses to go along with the superstition of naming Macbeth as the “Scottish Play”, especially as it was written by an Englishman to amuse and appease the Scottish King James after he acceded to the English throne – the bulk of Everyday concentrates on the meeting’s role as a support group.
For all four characters have been subjected to some form of domestic abuse, and this is a coven of survivors (deaf people are almost twice as likely to suffer domestic violence). The meeting is on the New Moon, a time for reflection on the past and to give hope for the future.
Cherie Gordon’s Shadow relates her childhood in a family with an abusive father, of believing the excuses her mother would make for her bruises, and of waiting for the time her mother would be strong enough to leave. Webster performs a silent repetition of movements depicting her life as a young girl, regularly being left with the grandfather who would rape her. Fifi Garfield’s Lady Aine relates how her marriage to her childhood sweetheart descended into hell, being regularly beaten by him, leaving her with PTSD.
Each of these monologues is strengthened by the varying mixes of mime, BSL, captions and speech. Unless one is fully bilingual, there may be gaps in comprehension of each story. This only adds to the veracity of each tale; in any survivor’s account, there is much that those outside a situation can struggle to comprehend, much less understand.
The fourth tale is the strongest, partly because it plays out in several scenes across the play’s length, but also it is the only one set out as a duologue between victim and oppressor.
Zoë McWhinney’s Aislinn is a bright, funny, law student who meets Jamie, a hearing guy (played by Gordon) in the park. On their first meeting, Jamie’s inability to use BSL creates a barrier that the pair find a way to overcome. In a later meeting, Jamie has started to learn BSL so he can ask Aislinn on a date; but once they go out, his belittling, coercive behaviour begins to drain the life out of her.
The pacing of that story works better than the three monologues, although each of those has its own charm. And while it feels odd to describe tales of abuse as having charm at all, this is a tale of survival, mutual support, and friendship.
The end feeling is of power and joy, the spiritual effects of the coven bestowed upon us as an audience just as much as upon the witches at its heart. Like the new sign says: clever.
Continues until 11 June 2022