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Not By Bread Alone: Perth Festival Review

Not By Bread Alone, Created by Adina Tal and Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble, Directed by Adina Tal, Performed by Rafael Akoa, Itshak Hagay Hanina, Nurani Levy, Zipora Malca, Igor Osherov, Bat Sheva Rabansari, Shoshana Rozilia Segal, Evgenia Shtesky, Yuriy Tverdovskyy and Mark Yaroski, Regal Theatre, Until Feb 12.

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Nalags’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble, Not By Bread Alone. Photo: Toni Wilkinson

THREE AND A HALF STARS

The Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble is the only theatre company of its kind in the world. “Nalaga’at” translates as ‘Do Touch’ and refers to sign language performed through touch – sometimes the only way deaf-blind people have of communicating with others around them.

Not By Bread Alone is generous and affecting theatre that propels us in to the lives and dreams of its deaf-blind performers. From the outset, the actors are masked, making bread at a table. The bread is baked during the performance and afterwards, the audience is invited onstage to taste it. (It’s delicious.)

During the show, the masks fall to reveal the individual stories and quirks of each performer, their hopes and fears. It isn’t all biographical, by any means, and reflections on life in a world of silence and darkness are spliced with amusing interludes. Wistful monologues from performers who can recall the experience of vision and hearing jostle with richly articulated comedy – a whimsical sequence in a high-class hairdressing salon, for instance, or a lively slapstick double-act in the mould of Laurel and Hardy.

Just as important to the performance are the translators who assist the actors to move around the stage, vocalise the signed dialogue and translate into English the spoken elements of the show.

There’s a temptation – best avoided when reviewing performers with disability – to lower the bar, or to marvel at courage in adversity, rather than concentrate on the artistry. That’s patronising in the extreme, and the best parts of the show stand tall on any measure.

What is true is that the desire to communicate lies at the heart of this piece, and Adina Tal’s achievement is to shape it into the kind of communion between actor and audience so essential to great theatre. Not By Bread Alone will make you reflect on the difficult pleasures of self-expression. It asks you to unlearn some common preconceptions about sensory disability, and opens a window into a ways of being in the world that seem at once strange and utterly familiar.