Talking Hands: The Woman I Am / Life, It Goes On – Deafinitely Theatre

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director : Paula Garfield

Writers: Samantha Pearsall and Abigail Gorman

A woman, Sam, sits in her front room, waiting for a parcel delivery. She bemoans the unreliability of the service, and uses the time to sift through some old family photos. In The Woman I Am, she tells us about her childhood. The youngest of three, she admits feeling different from an early age. A falling out between her parents over a doll confuses her even more. Sam (Samantha Pearsall playing herself) has been Deaf from birth, but as she signs to us, it becomes clear this is not the difference she is talking about.

Dara is preparing a dinner for friends – the first since the pandemic. They sign enthusiastically about reconnecting with others, putting the world to rights. Dara takes a keen interest in what is happening in the world, and politics soon make it to the table. Life, It Goes On describes 2020 as the “year of change”. Dara (played by Bea Webster) articulates how the pandemic did not level inequalities, but exposed the fault-lines embedded in our society. It becomes clear that Dara is not talking in vague terms, but from the trauma of lived experience.

Taking its lead from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, Deafinitely Theatre’s collection of short films, Talking Hands, explores life on the margins; monologues for the authorial voices not usually handed the microphone.

Both films tackle their respective issues with grace and dignity. Pearsall’s self-penned script is warm and familial, while looking at the pain of being and outsider and not quite understanding why. Written by Abigail Gorman, Life, It Goes On examines recent history, and tries to make sense of it. The film acknowledges that contemporary life is complicated. Or as Dara describes it, “a shit trifle”. They’re keen to point out the guests are getting meringue.

Where these films excel is in striking the right tone for their respective stories. Director Paula Garfield holds the camera back a little, giving the performers breathing space. The friendly, informal feel makes us listen in more closely: both films tackle difficult, emotionally complex subjects but there is humour and compassion throughout. Pearsall’s coming-of-age film is more personal in approach and gently leads us to its conclusion, whereas Webster’s Dara goes broader with a wise-cracking, characterful performance that references the greats of this genre: Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge, Victoria Wood.

In these to-camera pieces, weaknesses can be easy to pick up on. But Garfield wisely lets Pearsall tell her story in an unhurried way, only revealing the whole picture in the last few moments. As Dara, the non-binary, ADHD-diagnosed narrator, Webster’s ability to navigate political ideas while not breaking character is iron-clad.

By giving D/deaf performers a platform, Talking Hands makes crucial inroads. But it is in the film-makers’ generosity of spirit that these stories really flourish. Discussing moments of crisis and reckoning, these films have a universality which nullifies the idea that marginalised stories are only of limited interest. In making room for these voices, it follows that there is always room for more.

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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