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Face Front Inclusive Theatre presents

 

Counting the Ways

Catrin Menna,Wayne'Pickles'Menna and Jean St Clair in Counting The Ways

Photo by Robert Workman

 

by Edward Albee

 

Directed by Jeni Draper

 

Oval House

 

11 May – 15 May 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couzens

A review by Angus Templeton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Face Front Theatre is “a unique company, including people with physical, sensory and learning impairments”. In Counting the Ways they’ve created a show which incorporates performances from actors with disabilities, but which also caters to a possibly disabled audience. It’s an interesting piece of experimental theatre.

Counting the Ways was written in 1976 by American playwright Edward Albee. It’s a one act piece about a couple who, having been married for many years, are now exploring whether or not they’re in love anymore. It’s a good short play exploring the relationship between two people.

In this production, the action has been doubled. Instead of one couple, there are now two. One communicates entirely in BSL – British Sign Language, and the other is a couple who communicate in English, though one is wheelchair bound. On top of this is a narrator who is both part of the production and out of it, played by Wayne Norman, and he provides the audio description both into a head set and as part of the script.

While I was very interested in the duality of the dialogue, Counting the Ways, was the wrong vehicle for this particular brand of theatre. Edward Albee’s plays are very introspective and personal, but by doubling the action on stage Face Front has reduced the power of the script. Wayne Norman’s character George was also superfluous in much of the action. While his presence added some empathy to the piece, it removed us from much of the emotion the other actors portrayed by giving us an outside perspective. This was not helped when, halfway through the show, the actors broke character, introduced themselves, described what they were wearing, and then went back to the action. While I appreciate the statement the director is making with this performance, it’s at odds with the subject matter of the play.

The difference between the two female leads, Catrin Menna and Jean St Clair, was not just vocal. St Clair uses sign language, but what really stood out was her use of facial expression as well. We tend not to use our faces as much as our voice to convey expression, but given the absence of signifiers such as pitch and tone, suddenly the face becomes your main feature to demonstrate your feelings. Watching the two perform side to side was an unforgettable experience, as you saw the emotion portrayed in two radically different ways.

If seen as straight theatre Counting the Ways can leave you cold. But it’s actually a performance carefully woven in with our expectations of communication. Counting the Ways has been designed to be equally enjoyable no matter how you interact with it. Whether you’re blind or deaf, you can appreciate this piece of theatre just as easily as a ‘normal’ person, as opposed to coping with the equivalent of subtitles.

As an interesting aside – as an Australian, I’m used to sign language in either Auslan (which is descended from BSL but is a separate language), or Ameslan (American Sign Language, which I’ve seen on TV). BSL was a new experience to me.

 

 

Box office:  020 7582 7680

www.ovalhouse.com

Oval House
52-54 Kennington Oval, London,SE11 5SW

Tuesday – Saturday 7.45pm

£12/£6

 

 

 

 

 

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