Creative Interpreter: Kate Furby
Literary Associate: Andrew Muir
Movement Consultant: Naomi Said (Frantic Assembly)
Director: Paula Garfield
Reviewer: Mary Halton
The Public Reviews Rating:
With the challenging aim of making work that can be enjoyed equally by both deaf and hearing audiences, Deafinitely Theatre have inhabited the Southwark Playhouse to bring the story of Tanika’s Journey to a diverse audience. Utilising the atmospheric space of the vaults perfectly, designer Simon Daw creates a remarkably still and stark landscape – a frozen moment in time from which Tanika’s story will unfold. What follows is a rich visual and surprisingly audial tapestry – where one might have expected a distracting duality, there is instead a flow of imagery and sound both complimentary and independent.
The first clue of how this piece will work is in the fact that there is no writer credited. Inspired by the true story of a refugee’s three month journey through frozen Ukrainian forests, the story of Tanika’s flight from her native Sri Lanka has been shaped by many hands and doesn’t rely on dialogue, though some is utilised. Tanika’s alienation as a refugee, as a child far away from home and as a member of the deaf community is starkly profound. Alternately terrified, fascinated and perplexed by her new surroundings, we frequently journey into her memory and imagination to explore her home in Sri Lanka and her perception of London – the destination for her great journey.
Through a mixture of Sri Lankan sign language and movement we are told fairytales, a heartbreaking family history and the story of a future; hoped for and feared in equal measure. The transitions from the bleak Ukrainian forest that comprises the main set, to the warmth of Sri Lanka and the rainy streets of London are both fluid and endearing. Deafinitely paint a scene with movement, light and sound, rather than set, props and words. Sri Lanka is bathed in light; rich in colour and movement. Londoners brandish umbrellas and wave at the Queen. For the most part this is enjoyably effective, losing momentum only when the sign language is occasionally too rapid to follow.
Such a structure allows the cast to rely heavily on their physicality – characters loom larger than life not only in Tanika’s worldview as a child, but with every thought, step and emotion amplified or repeated for the audience. This draws out some incredibly powerful moments, as there is no dialogue to be distracted by and the focus is entirely on facial expression and key movements.
Tanika’s Journey is starkly beautiful and deeply moving. Deafinitely Theatre have certainly succeeded in providing a work that offers much to both deaf and hearing audiences – indeed, as they are often sparse, the sounds are all the more powerful. The whole space feels muted, and the scrape of frozen branches against passing coats echoes and lingers. While in bouncing from place to place, time to time and imagination to reality, Tanika’s Journey may leave some audience members a little behind, it is wholly visually and emotionally arresting.