There’s little that says “Christmas” more than a pantomime (except Noddy Holder shouting “IT’S CHRISTMAS” of course) and last night I went to a pantomime for the first time in years. This though, was a panto with a difference. It took place at my local deaf club, and all the cast were deaf so the whole thing was done in sign language.
Ian and I were really unsure what to expect when we bought our tickets and our biggest worry was that we wouldn’t understand any of it. We needn’t have worried: the cast were brilliant. Their comedy timing was much better than many trained actors, and because pantomime and BSL are both so visual, the combination worked really well and we actually understood very well.
They also seemed to have thought about the fact that lots of people who went would be people like us, who were learning BSL and who thought this would be a great opportunity to practise. They included some elements of teaching/explaining new vocabulary, but because they built it so cleverly into the plot it didn’t seem contrived at all.
There was a group of interpreters there for non-signers, but we found them to be more of a distraction than a help – sometimes their words didn’t match the signs; sometimes their words didn’t even match the signer for example they were saying the Queen’s words while the King was signing.
I can’t criticise them because it takes years of training to be a BSL interpreter, and interpreting a play is a very specialised area within the field of BSL interpreting, and these were just volunteers. To make their job even more difficult, I think that only the plot of the play had been decided; the performance itself had a very ad-lib feel to it so they wouldn’t have known the exact signs they had to interpret until they saw them. Taking all that into account, I think they did a great job.
If I could offer a little constructive feedback, it would be this: often less is more. Interpret the signs by all means, but facial expressions and actions can be understood by everybody so statements such as “I’m opening the door now to see if anybody is listening”, and “I’m sitting in the chair and wriggling about a bit because it’s not comfortable” could be dropped, giving more time to decide how to interpret the actual signing parts.
We really enjoyed it though, and would definitely go to another one. However, next time, I would take ear-plugs for a more authentic experience. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking for something a bit different to do. There’s another chance to see it on Tuesday 11th December in Dudley.