Saturday, September 24, 2011

WillFredd Theatre, 'FOLLOW': Breadcrumbs

The Lir, ABSOLUT Fringe 2011
Sept 13-17

My review of Follow coming up just as soon as I see another seahorse ...

Rarely have artists adorned a theatre space with such invention and humility as Willfredd have done with Follow, co-created by performer Shane O’Reilly, taking us on a journey through a rich theatre vocabulary of light, sound and gesture, all to impart the experience of being deaf.

It starts with O’Reilly, patient and compelling, signing the act of drawing a circle on the ground with a stick. He makes good use of time and explanation so that those of unfamiliar with the grammar are not left behind. A scene involving a boy and his classmates in a Christian Brothers school demonstrates the playfulness of the physical language, complemented by the heavy reverb of Jack Cawley’s guitar queazing his stomach as he queues for the bathroom. The effect is more vibration than melody; the circumstance of sound when you’re deaf. Furthermore, the principal of sight in such a condition inspires Sarah Jane Shiels’ design, as she throws pearls of white and blue light across the stage like breadcrumbs, leading O’Reilly and us through the darkness.  

Director Sophie Motley’s production gleams with innovation. One of the most precious moments is planted in a segment where a woman watches a wildlife programme about clownfish. Then in a mesmerising scene where O’Reilly’s schoolboy is shoved underwater, his body, with all its fluency in emblems and symbols, slowly becomes an angelfish. “Deaf people belong underwater” he says; a most beautiful and curious metaphor. It’s ‘underwater’, where Cawley finds melody with dew drops of piano and in Shiels’ sapphire glow, that we glimpse an incredible potential within ourselves for endless communication no matter what condition we’re in.

Follow offers understanding and revelation and admirably it’s after justice as well. A scene where a deaf individual is told by an insurance man “It’s not my fault you’re deaf” is spelled out thoroughly as if a grammar lesson. A woman desperate to find her children cannot communicate with the help services. There’s a devastating scene where a father, whose speech is captioned on a screen, asks his son (O’Reilly) to turn around to test his hearing, and having still not been heard after screaming at him he leaves his son behind before he turns back.

Follow is the result of a true think tank of ingenuity. When O’Reilly steps into that circumference he has drawn, holding his hand high in the light, we know new languages, human and theatrical, are ready to be harnessed.

What did everybody else think?

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