Thursday, 8 July 2010
Feel the knead in me ...
You may not know much of Finchley: La Thatcher’s old constituency perhaps you recall, a pimple on the forehead of London’s map-face just before it breaks out in to the bushy afforestation of, well, Bushey and the rest of leafy Hertfordshire.
Be grateful though that someone has thought to fund its modern and enterprising ‘Artsdepot’ complex and to host part of the London International Festival of Theatre where Israel’s Nalaga’at troupe is packing not just the Jewish home crowd but people from all over London to its uniquely experiential show.
Nalaga’at is a company of eleven adult deaf-blind actors, most of whom lost their sensations from birth or in infancy, welded into a performing company by director Adina Tal and delivering an ensemble piece in which the group kneads, seasons and bakes bread on stage whilst telling personal stories and acting out pantomime-like sketches. The set is wonderful, warm with carpentry and golden light - we could be in Mrs Lovett’s pie shop, or the Baker’s house in ‘Into The Woods’.
For the hour it takes for the bread to bake, your mind may wander. Once you’ve accepted that this is a tremendous piece of work to inspire, coach and direct the deaf-blind, leading them with cues from a tambour drum or by touch, and that it took two years to develop and rehearse the show, you are allowed to consider where else this could go and what's the balance between occupational therapy and entertainment.
Showing off that you know waggling your hands in the air is the sign-language equivalent of applause is only part of the range of reactions available, but you will certainly marvel at the varieties of communication through signing, mime, translation of one-person’s hand gestures by his speaking neighbour, fractured speech, and the surtitles.
The whole event is best bracketed with the two hands-on options: BlackOut bar in which, rather like Dans Le Noir restaurant in Clerkenwell, you are led by your blind waitress to eat and drink in total darkness, where every movement has to be tentative and (particularly if you are seated with Henry Hitchings the theatre critic of the Evening Standard) every conversation sounds like double-entendres from a Carry On film.
There’s also a full-service and brightly-lit restaurant run as ‘Café Kapish’ in which charming and totally deaf waiting staff will take your orders in sign language. Best brush up on your charades for ‘Goat Cheese Panini’