At the heart of all live theatre is the challenge of imaginatively stepping into another person's experience; Read My Lips offers a revealing and entertaining opportunity to encounter the seldom seen world of the deaf.
The short, devised work comes from Embers Collective – a youthfully energetic group committed to producing theatre that raises provocative questions and encourages dialogue. They created the work by collecting stories from Auckland's deaf community and the show abundantly displays the authenticity which comes from genuine personal engagement.
The drama centres on three young women whose friendship is tested when one of them suddenly becomes deaf following meningitis. Their shared confrontation with a new reality does not shy away from anger, frustration and disappointment but also brings forth plenty of humour and offers a powerful affirmation of the value of friendship.
NZ Sign Language is used eloquently along with a wide variety of theatrical techniques which make the show fully accessible to both the deaf and hearing communities. Playful handwritten messages provide context and keys to understanding the numerous ways in which people can interact and convey messages.
Facial expressions, gestures, body language, mime and dance are all deployed to describe the daily difficulties faced by the deaf. There is also some wonderfully inventive visual storytelling displayed on an old-fashioned overhead projector which is used like a shadow-puppet screen. Expressionist painting is skilfully combined with sign language to evoke the profound sense of isolation that can emerge in a world without sound.
The cast all deliver strong performances with Shelley Waddams establishing a vivaciously energetic presence that is neatly balanced by Ashleigh Hook's warmly empathetic charm. At the centre of the show, Monari Falepeau movingly projects the self-possessed calm of an expressive personality who refuses to be patronised for her deafness.
What: Read My Lips
Where & When: Basement Theatre, Studio until Saturday, July 27
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton