The incredibly successful Horrible Histories books and its CBBC sketch show counterpart has taught us that the world has tended to be a brutal place to live, but this family show from Deafinitely Theatre stresses that this was even more true for D/deaf people through history. From oil-injection treatments in Ancient Egypt to Alexander Graham Bell’s anti-signing campaigns, D/deaf people have faced overwhelming stigmatisation and oppression.
But the show also celebrates the remarkable stories of D/deaf people that most of the audience will likely never have come across. We meet James Burke, heavyweight boxing champion and Kate Harvey, the suffragist who was jailed for refusing to pay taxes without the right to vote. Important allies feature, too, such as the founder of Britain’s first deaf school, Thomas Braidwood. We learn about the development of sign language.
It’s certainly an education – an especially valuable introduction for D/deaf children to the history of Deaf culture and community, thoroughly researched and never less than engaging. Actors Fifi Garfield, Naomi Gray and Nadeem Islam conduct proceedings with verve, and in both English and BSL.
Crucially, though, it lacks the precise comic pulse of its progenitors – the cartoon strips of the books and exuberant song and dance numbers of the TV show don’t find their equivalent in an expressive theatrical language. Instead, the grizzly deaths and gory details are half-heartedly realised with some plastic props – the intention is there, but it doesn’t quite earn its title.