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May 17, 2003

Hearing and deaf actors take the lead in new play

From: Cambridge Evening News, UK - May 17, 2003

By John Clare

DEAF and hearing members of a Cambridge drama group will perform a groundbreaking new work at the National Theatre in London.

Students from the Cambridge Arts Theatre's Stage 2 group have produced a piece of work that includes both deaf and hearing characters, using both normal speech and sign language.

It is based on Multiplex, a play written for the Shell Connections Festival which is held every year to celebrate youth drama and new writing.

The play, by Christopher William Hill, features a deaf character called Jo Jo.

This was seized on by Roberta Hammond, education and community manager at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, who has been holding a pioneering summer school for deaf and hearing youngsters for the past six years.

Together with six of her star pupils, she has produced a spin- off production called Jo Jo's Journey, designed to showcase the theatre's unique approach.

She said: "When you have signing, people have felt it is sign supported English but it's not. It's an English play being put into a separate language."

In Jo Jo's Journey, deaf and hearing characters mingle on stage, using both sign and speech to create a truly bilingual piece.

Mrs Hammond said: "BSL is quite mesmerising to hear and amazing to watch.

"Recently we found that we can run two scenes at the same time and one has hearing actors and one has the whole thing done in sign and they don't necessarily keep up with each other."

She added: "Jo Jo is played by Sarah Clark who comes from Ely and is absolutely someone to watch. The fact she happens to be deaf is neither here nor there."

The 45-minute production will be performed at the National Theatre from July 15-22 and Mrs Hammond hopes it will encourage more theatres to follow Cambridge's lead.

©2003 Cambridge Newspapers