Emer O’Kelly, 3rd February 2013
Does ISL (Irish Sign Language, the method of communication used by many deaf people) have dramatic possibilities? Apparently WillFredd Theatre company wasn’t sure, but went ahead with an exploration anyway. The result is Follow, a play with sound by Shane O’Reilly and Jack Cawley. I’m slow to use the word “masterpiece,” but this hour-long interweaving of several stories from the world faced by people who cannot hear clearly, or even at all, comes damn close.
There is the bunch of little imps in a deaf-school dormitory all getting a bad dose of the runs after eating their own cookery, and having to deal with the outcome with inadequate bathroom facilities. It’s delightful, though it takes a deeply sad twist as the same little imps are taken to Lourdes, only to have the ring-leader Ned having to face the family gathered at home and watch their faces as they realise the longed-for “cure” has not materialised.
There is the macho young disco man with 80 per cent hearing loss in both ears trying to sort out his health insurance in a hearing world: macho men wear their ear-protectors round their necks, he admits, and yes, it’s his own fault he’s deaf now.
There’s the desperate young father following a garda and trying to explain that he can’t understand when the garda calls to the house and asks if he has two children, only to lead him to a local hospital where nobody understands his anguished incoherence.
They’re just three of the stories within a story performed by Shane O’Reilly through speech and sign language accompanied by subtitles. O’Reilly is a consummate performer, his body lithe and expressive, his voice perfectly modulated in the way that we have all so often been reminded is how we should speak to help deaf people to hear us.
The emotions ar perfectly pitched under Sophie Motley’s direction, ranging from mischievuous to distraught.
The sound is designed and the music composed and performed bu Jack Cawley, an amalgam that begins with the cautionary disco assault on the ears (mine were still painful the next morning), and takes us through the various sound levels experienced by deaf people.
Design is by Sarah Jane Shiels and there is production involvement from Arts and Disability Ireland. But Follow is first a piece of creative dramatic art. The “disability” element comes behind the creative thrust, which is as it should be in art.