Speaking by May Jasper is a technically exacting piece about love and the National Relay Service, a form of communication used by the Deaf community in order to speak to non Deaf persons. This service is used to demonstrate the frustration of distance, loss, and unrequited love, with a good dose of humour thrown in.
Nick (Adam Cass) is a man slowly coming to terms with the loss of his hearing. He is in love with Olivia (Lauren Bailey), the first friend he has made since going deaf. They communicate chiefly through the National Relay service, where a third character, Beth (Kellie Fernando/Bird), reads out what he types and translates her words the other way round, gradually becoming Nick’s only hope in winning over his reluctant friend. This is an arduous task, especially for a man who “used to wield his voice like a weapon” who is forced to communicate through a sultry woman’s voice.
Speaking is an awkward piece, but deliberately so. Most theatre is made up of well-turned phrases, glibly trotted out, a call and response of emotion. In this play, however, every word counts, especially for the character of Nick, who is frustratingly cut off many times by Olivia’s casual remarks; she has the space to speak words on top of words, he has only the keyboard, and the disembodied voice.
Further disorientation occurs through the stance of the characters, peering into a half-seen audience, speaking into a darkened room. Nick and Olivia are blinded by the NRS, unable to use visual markers or Auslan, and Olivia shouts out into space, not quite knowing how or which of her words are going to have the right resonance. Their stunted attempts to dance alone are corralled by the spotlights that contain them. Olivia manages to break free, if only temporarily, in a musical display of tongue-in-cheek celebration, but Nick remains within his circle of light, waiting for a response from the void.
This is a highly technical play, and director Phil Roberts has done an admirable job of assembling the vital use of words on the screen, as well as including an Auslan translation of the entire script that runs along with the play. As it is technically demanding, it did seem that any hiccups would destabilise the performance of the actors, who seem to do well despite the obvious constraints of the piece. Jasper has written a thoughtful and heartfelt play where we are left to wonder about the dissatisfaction of the unclosed circle.
Speaking runs from the 23rd of September until the 11th of October at La Mama theatre in Carlton
MELBOURNE FRINGE FESTIVAL
23 September – 11 October