Zoë McWhinney: My review of Deafinitely Theatre’s Contractions (BSL)

Posted on November 23, 2017

There are only a few more opportunities to see Contractions at the New Diorama Theatre in London. See the remaining dates and book your ticket here. Photo (above) by Becky Bailey.

Like a keen bean, I booked to go and watch Deafinitely Theatre’s very first performance of Mike Bartlett’s Contractions.

To watch Zoe signing her article, click play below, or scroll down to continue reading in English.

I was excited to see Fifi Garfield, the ‘Kafkaesque’ Manager in action alongside Abigail Poulton as Emma, a perky young underling.

I knew some of Bartlett’s writings beforehands, so I expected discomfort. And the play duly delivered.

The story of Contractions is an example of how giant corporate conglomerates who make these policies and procedures are so detached from the human realities of their underlings’ lives.

I squirmed in my seat and was left with a tight lump struck in my throat afterwards. Just as the play intended.

(A quick tip: sit in the right half of the audience; most of the action happens in that area!)

I really loved how it is actually staged in an office building. The muted hubbub of the late-evening office activities in the background sometimes accidentally coincided with, and adds to the atmosphere, realness of the play.

That was a clever move by director, Paula Garfield. The whole feel of the set and the play is certainly sophisticated, albeit to me felt as somewhat conservative in the sense of its theatrical potential – but perhaps the advantage is that it appeals to a wide variety of audiences.

Throughout the play, I felt (mostly) helplessly indignant and horrified, gripping on the edge of my seat whilst others in the audience laughed at the absurdity of the Manager’s actions – cold, insensitive and almost childlike solutions and pedantic pursuits – on Emma’s personal life.

Possibly, I ponder, my mostly horrified reaction to the play lies in the fact that as a 21 year old and fresh out of university, I do not have much 9am-5pm office experience or experiences in the system of the workplace…

But, as horrified as I was, there were also some humorous moments, in ridiculously twisted ways. It was realistic, plausible in a way no one wanted to admit; sentences beginning with “if I was Emma, I’d…”, “Emma should have…” was undeniably running through our minds whilst watching it, and even afterwards. Poulton’s Emma was likeable and heartbreakingly human.

Typically, speech ability and SSE, some would say, do tend to be found to higher ranks in the workplaces compared to people who predominantly signs BSL. In that sense, it was interesting to see how the characters’ communication styles and their rank in the office are flipped over in this play.

Emma was constantly second-guessing herself, tripping over her SSE and trembling speech, whilst the Manager authoritatively signs BSL in a very controlled, explicit and deliberate way.

I definitely recommend you catch Contractions before its last showing next Wednesday 29th November!

See Contraction’s remaining dates and book your ticket here.

Fresh out of university after 3 years of studying International Relations with Political Science at Birmingham, Zoë McWhinney is currently a freelance creative. She is a BSL poet and Visual Vernacular artist, and one of the founders of BSL Slam. Politically-minded, and a massive people (and cats) person! She is the vice president of European Deaf Students’ Union, a union campaigning to raise the standards of the Deaf student life and accessibility across Europe. 

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