Tuesday 21st June 2022 at York Theatre Royal.
To mark the 20th Anniversary of Deafinitely Theatre Company, Paula Garfield has written and directed a new work: Everyday. The play draws its material from hard to digest statistics about the increase in domestic abuse cases during the lockdowns – with particular focus on deaf and non-binary individuals. Garfield presents us with four survivors of such domestic abuse, all of whom share their stories and undergo a relinquishing ritual of sorts.
A cast of four begin by invoking Macbeth’s witches and remind us that witches were once the sworn enemy of a man by name of King James I – the connection isn’t a smooth one but it neatly engages us by making us consider the various parallels the production might seek to highlight; women vilified by men with greater power? Women abused in an unjust society? Outcasts left behind by a negligent society, left to fend for themselves?
It seems the most useful connection is provided by a loose narrative framework: at this support group, healing energy is conjured (effectively suggested through Ali Hunter colourful lighting design) to allow each survivor the strength to share their experiences with the group – drinking from a potion conjured in a teapot, the four take turns to channel that energy until all four tales are told.
Even while conjuring metaphysical support, Grace Venning’s set designs take us to a rustic, homely space – a place of comfortable domesticity which provides a meaningful backdrop to stories which highlight how such spaces are far from places of comfort for some. Sound design from Xana further underscores this contrast through ominous, vibrating audio cues signalling the impending arrival of the darkest parts of each story.
In terms of narrative, the stories – based in part on interviews with domestic abuse survivors – are each disturbing in their own way, but there’s comedy and light-heartedness along the way, too. After all, so many coercive relationships begin with disarming fun and euphoria… Yet while the production offers engaging, sometimes accosting insights into the lives of others, pace becomes an issue as the piece progresses and at times the segues leave us slightly stranded as our focus is not so smoothly shifted between characters.
What does flow beautifully is the format of embedding various forms of communication, from BSL to captions to narrated moments. Two characters sign, two characters sign and speak – and the combination allows for greater connection between actors and audience throughout, offering a somewhat rare approach: giving marginalised communities the opportunity to tell their own stories. Describing themselves as “the first deaf-launched and deaf-led, bilingual theatre company in the UK, working in both British Sign Language and Spoken English”, Deafinitely Theatre create brilliantly inclusive work here.
Fifi Garland’s Lady Aine provides a comforting maternal presence as the leader of the group but also brilliantly portrays the anxiety and tension holding her character hostage in an abusive home. Zoë McWhinney offers a delicate, sensitive portrayal of a woman who assumed the bad things could never happen to her, while Cherie Gordon shows great versatility as they move between the roles of an enlightened survivor, Shadow, and a coercive perpetrator, Jamie. Bea Webster is our standout, bringing a depth to all of her roles and securing the strongest connection with her audience. She offers an endearing mix of warmth, humour, vulnerability and impressive expressiveness when performing a choreographed sequence (movement direction: Angela Gasparetto) used to capture the gradual nature of the way in which her character is betrayed.
Everyday is an engaging, reflective new work which, while fragmented and prone to stall in places, brings stories that need to be highlighted to the fore with great feeling. At this support group, with its pointed nods to spirituality and the metaphysical, our characters are supported to share, to listen and to heal – it’s a kind of communion of kindness between those with shared experience, and the final unifying moments deliver Garfield’s reassurances to survivors with sincerity and sensitivity.
Everyday tours until June 25th 2022 and you can find tickets here.