Andrew maintains Phil makes little sense anyway so there’s not much in the way of sense to be deprived of.
But the chance to see eleven deaf-blind actors telling eleven stories and baking bread in a performance that has been two years in the making seemed intriguing.
And since Andrew was at home, er, baking bread (Yes, really! In a breakmaker! How suburban!) and unwilling to face the long, cold trail to The Arts Depot, Phil was despatched solo.
Oh, and Phil’s long-gestating “Food-On-Stage” thesis had been gathering dust on the same shelf as his Petite Typewriter for too long of late. How could he resist?
But perhaps Andrew is cannier than Phil might give him credit for. Not By Bread Alone turns out to be almost impossible to review as if you go for the full “experience” you might emerge in two minds. And Phil did, despite being the only Whinger on board.
A package to see the Israel’s Nalaga’at Company (the only deaf-blind theatre company in the world, here as part of the LIFT 2010 season) can include a trip to the Café Kapish and BlackOut Bar. Phil took leave of his senses (literally in one case) and opted for both.
Being served wine, cheese and nibbles in the total darkness of the BlackOut Bar might seem a tad gimmicky, verging on the patronising even, but if you really want to know if it’s possible to drink wine without spilling it on your white Capri pants in the dark then this is the place for you. You might want to take your own soy-sauce* just in case. Phil somehow managed a spill-free time but it took an awful lot of groping (thankfully Andrew wasn’t in attendance) and found himself seated on the same table as The Standard’s esteemed theatre critic Henry Hitchings. But sight deprivation can do queer things to your senses.
It made Phil muse on a number of things. Without sticking your finger in, just how much wine is left in your wine glass? If Andrew had made another bad sartorial decision would Phil have known? Aural senses are heightened. Why did Hitchings sound even butcher than usual? Was it a cunning ruse to avoid Phil’s groping?
It’s quite extraordinary and does prepare you for the performance in the Depot’s Pentland Theatre. We were only deprived of sight and then only temporarily. So what we were lucky enough to be able to witness becomes even more remarkable.
The cast, who all have little or no sight or hearing, tell stories of their past, how they lost their senses, what they yearn for and what it’s like to be deprived of what most of us take for granted. And they knead bread, bake it during the course of the performance and serve it to the audience on stage at the end. It’s a strange rag-bag of a show with monologues, dancing, singing, clowning and audience participation in a signed “singalong” but criticism is redundant. It’s not so much what they do, it’s more that they can do what they do at all.
Cues are delivered by drum beats, some are guided by stage hands, others have their stories told by translators (perhaps Stephen Dillane should sign up).
Charismatic director Adina Tal appears on stage at the end and tells us how it’s changed her life, but more importantly how it’s transformed the lives of her troupe. There’s a joy on some of their faces that makes you wonder what you’re carping on about, have no fear, it’s a feeling that will surely pass.
The strange eccentricity is more theatrical than most offerings, but at 1hr 10 minutes it might seem churlish to mention longueurs which are quickly forgotten; even a stony Whingery heart couldn’t fail to feel something.
The performance was topped off with a trip to the Café Kapish, where a cursory crash course in sign language (diagrams on the place mats) enables communication with the deaf staff (who also give an amusing lesson to patrons). Phil, who normally waves his arms around to communicate anyway, was probably sending out all the wrong signals. So, nothing new there. But the charming and patient waiter Sebastian did translate the word Whinger for him. So this is a customised version of Whinger in sign language, it’s all in the “yakking” right hand movement apparently. Oddly enough it wasn’t quite the gesture Phil was anticipating.
Best to go for the whole experience then. Phil is inclined to pop down to Vauxhall next time Andrew is master of his own bakery, put a bag over his head and add earphones blasting out the soundtrack of Love Never Dies. Deprived of his senses let’s see how his sun-dried tomato and rosemary loaf turns out then shall we?
Not By Bread Alone runs until Thursday 15 July
* For Thoroughly Modern Millie aficionados only.