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Review: Extraordinary Wall of Silence at Bristol Old Vic

Jenna Morice reviews Ad Infinitum’s Extraordinary Wall of Silence, on at The Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic until 19 October

The 1880 Milan Conference passed a resolution banning the use of sign language in schools across the world, declaring ‘Oralism’ as the only worthy form of education. A pivotal moment that would affect the way D/deaf people were viewed and treated for years to come.

Ad Infinitum’s brand new production at The Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic is the product of 40-hours of interviews with Deaf people from the UK, bringing to light a little-known history of oppression faced by Deaf people. Through the stories of three lives and the use of three languages, Ad Infinitum explores how one watershed decision made by hearing people would create a life of prejudice, ignorance and fear for Deaf people.

Alan, Graham and Helen are all brought up believing they are impaired and need fixing. Quite literally. A symbolic construction tool-kit brings an uncomfortable physicality to the methods of ‘fixing’ deployed. From Helen’s agonising cochlear implant, causing unbearable tinnitus, Graham’s insufferable speech therapy, to the shame that leads Alan’s religious family to send him to a hearing school where he is tormented by students and teachers alike. All three enter adulthood without the communication skills necessary to a world dominated by the hearing.

Through spoken word, BSL and Ad Infinitum’s signature style of storytelling through physical language, all three lives weave together to confront the ignorance and abuse faced by the Deaf community. The cast, made up of three deaf actors and one hearing actor, pose poignant questions to the audience, presenting hearing people with facts that have almost gone undocumented. The culmination of three languages, tense sound-stylings of Sam Halmanack and a commanding performance from David Ellington, Matthew Gurney, Moria Anne McAuslan and Deborah Pugh, make for multi-sensory insights into an untold story.