Content warning: Sexual Abuse
“He who is silent is assumed to consent”
Can I start again please? is 55 minutes of intensive education on the limitation of language and interpretation, as well as the ways in which we processes trauma. In this show the audience witnesses the equal balance, and equal struggle, of spoken English and British Sign Language (BSL).
In this unique show, Sue MacLaine shares her own experiences with sexual abuse by her father. In the discussion after the show, MacLaine said her work is often focussed on the need to be seen, noticed or heard, but that this show is the only one in which she truly opened up about her personal trauma as a child. Although subtle, and somewhat encrypted in abstract language, the references to her ordeal were disturbing and undeniably raw. However, no matter how painful or troubling it was, they were perhaps too subtle and may have benefitted from being slightly more explicit, if only to clarify the purpose of the show.
Unlike other shows, Can I start again please? gives equal performance opportunities to BSL and spoken English. Nadia Nadaraja, MacLaine’s co-star and main collaborator, used mostly BSL to communicate to the audience. This was an extremely ambitious endeavour which the performance benefitted from immeasurably.
It was, therefore, somewhat concerning how the audience laughed when Nadaraja said things such as “rabbit” and “duck”. While there were times when her actions, or the way in which she used BSL, were intended to be comical or even dance-like, the audience laughing at her as though she were a child when she mimed felt indicative of how the deaf community are seen. After all, do children not often express themselves with gestures, mimes and pointing? Perhaps it isn’t so wrong to find it inherently funny when somebody wiggles their index fingers above their head. However gesticulating to express ones thoughts still appears to have a stigma of being an unsophisticated form of communication.
Nonetheless, this show also showed how spoken language can be just as unsophisticated and limited as sign language, if not more so. There were many instances in which the traumatic events of MacLaine’s childhood were explained and none of them did the trauma the justice it deserved.
This is an incredibly profound, inventive two-year labour of love and self-healing. It deserves all the praise it has received. Giving an equal stage to those who are not heard and those who cannot hear, it allows the deaf community the same experience as the hearing. Hopefully this is an endeavour many more artists will engage with.
Can I Start Again Please? at the Traverse Theatre (run now ended)
Photo credit: Cowplopmorris