Silent Slow Dancing
To reveal the set-up to Amanda Coogan and Deaf Theatre of Ireland’s “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” would be to spoil one of the most inclusive, immersive and inventive introductions to a show you’re ever likely to experience. In one neat move, from the moment you enter the auditorium, Coogan alters your relationship to the space, the performance, the cast, the audience, even to yourself, in the most beguiling and welcoming manner. Welcome is important in “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady,” for Coogan wants you to feel at ease, for she has some things she wants you to hear. Yet there’s no point in listening for them. You’ll have to learn to look and feel, trusting Coogan’s hallmark focus and intensity to help you find your way through the performance. One that references deaf playwright Teresa Deevy and her celebrated short work The King of Spain’s Daughter, the ongoing struggle to have Irish Sign Language (ISL) recognized as an official Irish language, and a dance of such dazzling simplicity, rich in so many interpretive possibilities, you will be mining it for many, many months to come.
The need for trust becomes apparent from the get go, for “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” unfolds with a painstakingly slow movement sequence. Five performers, including Coogan, each execute a series of methodical turns and moves referencing ISL with intense focus and deliberation. Repeated patterns and gestures emerge; arms extended from the body, palms waist high and facing downwards; fingers tapping the throat before sliding up towards the chin and flicking outwards. Some gestures begin to feel like you might just understand them; others remind you this is another language. Meanwhile, above a sea of headless bodies, three reproving sunflowers nod, wag, or point in quiet rebuke. All around, an extraordinary sound design by Áine Fay floods the auditorium, informing Coogan’s subtle yet powerful choreography with a greater sense of depth and power. At times, “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” can feel as if two distinct performances are taking place simultaneously: one for the hearing, one for the deaf, with each denied access to something the other has engagement with.
Choreographed like a gentle ballet performed in slow motion, with an operatic interlude towards the end, “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” reveals the personality behind the performers and the richness of ISL. Like any language, ISL is defined by the personality of the user, as subtle gestures and expressions reveal the messenger beyond the message; you might not always understand the latter, but you certainly see the former. For though choreographed and synchronized to the minutest detail, there are subtle shifts in expressiveness that reveal the individuality of each performer, whether through a hand gesture, a glance, or a movement.
If Teresa Deevy as playwright is very much in evidence, her script being both written and unwritten on the screen by way of a clever film by Paddy Cahill, it can be harder to locate The King of Spain’s Daughter at times. Yet a woman swimming naked appears to reference the spirit of freedom Deevy’s entrapped and rebellious character, Annie Kinsella, longed for. A woman never wanting to talk real fine, just like a lady, but wanting to have her own voice, to express herself in her own way, and live her life on her own terms. Just like Deevy. Just like the deaf community today.
If the end of “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” is a little obviously feel-good, it reveals something of the passion and resilience of the deaf community. Throughout, “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” puts you under a hypnotic spell that places you in an irresistible trance. One where you move from unknowing to a better understanding. To where you begin to feel the silence and the voices therein. If the performance risks being less informed for some, depending on where you sit and how much you see, it still does enough to maximise its impact for the majority. For “Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” is poetic in its execution and profound in its simplicity. A performance with endless interpretive possibilities that is as engaging as it is moving. You’ll be hard pressed not to want to wave your hands wildly at the end.
“Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady” by Amanda Coogan and Deaf Theatre of Ireland, runs at The Peacock stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 until September 23rd
For more information, visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 or The Abbey Theatre