Charlie Swinbourne: Why you should watch the brand-new Deaf sitcom, Small World

Posted on January 23, 2015

Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of watching a very new kind of Deaf programme being created – a Deaf sitcom, performed entirely in BSL, called Small World.

You could say Small World is like a Deaf version of the TV comedy Friends, a snappy, punchy comedy about a group of people around the same age, mainly set in their flat.

But what marks it out is how ‘Deaf’ it feels, and that’s because it was created in a very different way than most TV comedies.

For the pilot episode, the cast worked with only an outline of the story, improvising the BSL dialogue in each scene, before, after the rehearsal week had finished, a final script in English was created from videos of those scenes, ready for filming.

The cast and crew of Small World

The cast and crew of Small World

I was filming a behind the scenes film for the BSL Zone, so I sat in on one day of the rehearsals and the day of filming, seeing how it was all coming together, trying to capture what was taking place on a Canon 7D camera (mainly trying to keep my shots in focus!).

In rehearsals, I saw the cast go through each scene again and again, making little changes, discussing what they were doing before moving on.

Often, these discussions would involve creators (and lead actors) Brian Duffy and Ace Mahbaz conferring with director Louis Neethling over how a scene should go.

Because the rehearsals were improvised, no-one knew what was going to happen next, and inevitably, sometimes something really funny would happen, and everyone would burst out laughing.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Adam Bassett acting out his scenes as a stickler for BSL standards, correcting people’s signs, and David Sands’ performance as a slightly naive man who presumes he can move into the flat and won’t take no for an answer.

After rehearsing for one week, the cast and crew met again in Manchester for filming on a proper set – which looks like a student flat.

This is where the programme suddenly felt alive, with the cast dressed as their characters, sitting at a dining table or on the sofa, performing their scenes.

They had just one day to film the whole thing, with three cameras filming them from different angles, and Louis Neethling editing what happened live.

So the pressure was on – but in the end, after falling behind in the morning, they managed to finish dead on time!

The programme premiered online on Christmas Day and it’s fair to say the response has been massively positive (just look at the comments on the programme page).

What’s amazing, considering that it’s the first sitcom the team have made, is the way the story is structured so that it doesn’t dip or drag, with the jokes coming thick and fast.

There are references to Deaf history, our culture, and recent news stories to try and spot too.

So, if you want to get a sense of how humour in BSL works, I recommend you take a look.

Watch Small World by clicking here, and watch Charlie’s behind the scenes film by clicking here.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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