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Follow The Signs by Chris Fonseca at Soho Theatre

When a piece is described as the world premiere of a brand-new piece of fully BSL-integrated hip-hop gig theatre it sparks curiosity and so I popped into the Soho Theatre to see Follow The Signs.

Follow The Signs
Follow The Signs by Chris Fonseca.

This is not a standard theatrical presentation. In some ways, it’s a Ted Talk with lights and music. Everything starts as we take our seats with DJ Gaia ‘G33’ Ahuja mixing the music on stage. Once the show proper starts, we are introduced to writer/performer Chris Fonseca, a young black man who went deaf aged 2 after contracting meningitis. Chris tells his story using BSL and for those that can’t use this language, his voice is provided by co-writer & director Harry Jardine. There is also a projection of the spoken words above the stage which ensures the show is fully accessible – not something that can be said of most theatrical experiences.

Quite early on the commitment to accessibility is demonstrated when Raphaella Julien teaches Chris, and the audience, the basic BSL alphabet with a wonderful song that draws the young Chris in and makes him want to learn more of the language he will need throughout his life. Music and dance run throughout the show and BSL, when used by someone expert in it, always has a strong dance element to it, and as much is conveyed by the movement as by the signs themselves.

Chris’s life isn’t the easiest. Bullied at school, even stoned by ‘classmates’ at one point, he retreats into himself and tries to come to terms with who he is and how he fits into an education system that is not really designed for anyone that’s different and has trouble understanding the needs of someone like Chris. There is a horrible point where Chris is given lessons on how to speak by a patronising clown teacher. Watching this cringe-inducing scene, I really hope that things have moved on since Chris’s time at school but have my doubts

Both Chris and Raphaella talk/rap about the problems they’ve encountered in society and the issues they’ve faced of being considered not Black enough or even not Deaf enough for their own communities. If I’m honest, this part of the show made me feel very uncomfortable. I realised that I simply saw two performers that were black and deaf and had no idea of their lives or how they faced the world. Even something as simple as finding someone to speak their BSL words was a problem with, more often than not, their ‘voices’ being a white person who translates literally and doesn’t necessarily understand or have the words for the nuances of what the Deaf person is trying to say.

At this point Follow The Signs may be sounding a bit of a downer, but it is anything but. There is a joy to the performances that really comes through. Leaving the state school system and going to university opened Chris’s eyes to a better life and whatever issues he faces, he embraces them and really lives his life.

Follow The Signs is not the easiest show to watch and at times the energy of the show seems to sag but luckily Chris Fonseca soon brings it back up. As a performer, he is first-rate, and he really knows how to grab an audience and draw them into his tale. He also has a wicked sense of humour and had the audience roaring as he tells of his ability, thanks to a cochlear implant, to switch off irritating noise, and his interactions with railway ticket collectors. At 55 minutes running time, the show feels very short. I think Chris has a lot more to tell and hopefully, he will be out there telling it soon.

 

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Chris is Deaf in a hearing world. Chris is Black on a racist island.
No code. No imprint. No escape.
But this is not a tragedy. This is a story of hope. This is a story about owning your identity.

Once upon a time there was a boy from down the road
He contracted meningitis at the age of two years old
His life had been ok but now little did he know
His hearing was to leave him and was due to change his world

This is the world premiere of Follow the Signs – a brand new piece of fully BSL-integrated hip-hop gig theatre.

Cast: Gaia Ahuja, Chris Fonseca, Harry Jardine, Raphaella Julien

Creatives
Harry Jardine – Director, co-writer and Performer
Chris Fonseca – Co-writer, Choreographer and Performer
Yacoub Didi – Composer
Simeon Miller – Lighting Designer
Gareth Tucker – Sound Designer
Rachel Sampley – Video and Caption Designer
Deepa Shastri, Kelsey Cherie Gordon – BSL Consultants

Tue 23 – Sat 27 Aug 2022
https://sohotheatre.com/

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