In a world where deaf people are expected to adapt and fit in with the mainstream, for the 65 multi-sensory minutes we were part of Jonny Cotsen’s audience at the MAC Birmingham, we – the hearing people – were on the back foot. Leading a one-man autobiographical show, Jonny controlled the room with raw emotion and storytelling using all the drama mediums available and necessary to express his disability and ability.
At times it was uncomfortable; baffling and strange even – but what I came to realise is, it wasn’t just for needless dramatic effect. Far from. Repetition communicated the recurrent pains of learning to accept oneself as a human being who believes they’re equal whilst being reminded constantly of their otherness.
Louder Is Not Always Clearer – the title is both a gateway to humour, something which Jonny does brilliantly well during moments when he mocks hearing people’s ignorance (“Oh, you can drive a car? Wow!) – and also a clue about the ideas surrounding deafness he plans to demystify.
When you’re shown what it’s like to process sound through a hearing aid, you’ll understand why some deaf people leave them at home. When you see how hard it is to lipread, you’ll understand why it can’t be the way we expect deaf people to communicate with their hearing counterparts. When you’re shown how much one deaf man has achieved, you’ll be angry at how a lack of basic accessibility holds so many people back in life.
I’m still amazed I left a theatre show having learnt all this in such a creative way.
This Mr and Mrs Clark Production, strengthened by an innovative technical team including sound designer Christopher Young, is unfortunately on hiatus due to Coronavirus forcing theatres to close across the UK. Once the tour begins again, I hope this educational and down-to-earth show is seen by the right people.
The show is accessible to D/deaf and hearing audiences through the use of spoken English, BSL and creative captions.
Despite a few awkward moments when I felt the audience needed earlier instructions on how to reply to their performer, the entire production is a stellar example of how theatre can be made authentically more accessible in a way which will get larger, and more diverse crowds, through the studio doors.
Louder Is Not Always Clearer will, fingers crossed, continue to tour the UK and seven other countries this year. To stay updated on dates, click here. In the meantime, follow the funny and charming Jonny Cotsen on social media here.