Not By Bread Alone: Israeli deafblind theatre comes to North London
When I sent out a mass text message to my friends, inviting them to come with me to a play by an Israeli deafblind theatre company, one charming response was that it sounded “like a parody of something a liberal journo arts graduate would want to see” (although he would have joined me if he were not in Cornwall). I suppose it’s true; even as a liberal journo arts graduate, I had to acknowledge it sounded a bit niche. But Not By Bread Alone turns out to be anything but cliched – or niche. It’s open hearted and genuine.
As part of the London International Festival of Theatre, Israeli company Nalaga’at – the only deafblind theatre company in the world – have brought their centre wholesale to artsdepot in North Finchley. Director Adina Tal set up Nalaga’at ten years ago, after an agreed two months of workshops with a group of deafblind individuals snowballed. The centre now not only offers theatre but also has café run by deaf staff and a restaurant where food is served in the dark by blind waiters.
Their show, Not By Bread Alone, took two years to devise and rehearse. In keeping with the foody setting – they’ve set up the cafes in artsdepot too – the title isn’t purely abstract. The cast of eleven make, bake and break bread onstage. The show opens with them kneading dough as they begin to share their stories. Throughout the show, the bread rises and is baked; at the end we are invited on stage to eat it, and meet the cast.
The action of baking bread is one that naturally appeals to senses other than sight and sound: kneading the dough draws attention to hands and touch, while the baking smells that fill the auditorium throughout the second half are enticing. Baking is also a way of creating something, rising and transforming. And the play is very much about creation and the raising of the spirit. It explores the ways in which deafblind people can communicate and create, as well as showing the cast’s profound appreciation of the world they sense and “the joy of creation” - a refrain we’re invited to join them in sign-singing.
The stories the cast of eleven tell are quite simple, based on memories and hopes for the future; this obviously isn’t flashy or particularly complex theatre in narrative or structural terms. However, it is fiendishly complex when it comes to sheer mechanics. All the actors are deafblind, although some have traces of sight or hearing, and three can speak. Of course, they don’t speak English, so even this has to be translated – there are subtitles above the stage and different performances also have a British sign language interpreter at the side or are audio-described. The other actors sign their contributions – some fingers spell words in “glove language” on the joints of a hand, some tap out Braille on a palm, and while some use Israeli sign deafblind language, others use Russian or Hebrew. They are supported by unobtrusive interpreters, who also bang drums to cue scene changes through vibrations.
And it’s not just the different communication methods that overcome seemingly impossible barriers; Tal also explains how the centre includes actors from different faiths, with Jews, Muslims and Christians working together. From overcoming language and sensory barriers to religious ones, Nalaga’at movingly prove you can always make a connection. To recall (loosely, I’m afraid) what Tal says in a slightly choked-up address afterwards: it’s amazing what you can achieve when you remove the word “impossible” from your vocabulary.
(Photo: Not by Bread Alone, Nalaga’at Theatre Company, liftfestival.com)Tagged in: artsdepot, Nalaga'at, Not By Bread Alone
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