When I walked into the venue, past a stage of young hopefuls patiently waiting for their guests to be seated, I was not expecting to be transported on the journey that I was. The Graeae ensemble told the tale of life, whilst questioning our place in it, in a way so refreshing that allowed you to see beauty and optimism in the darkest of times.
Hurricane Protest Songs was an array of spoken word, movement, dance and narrative, which seamlessly interconnected to convey themes of modern day poverty, isolation, homophobia, uncertainty and wonder. Just a few of the themes they managed to portray well in a short amount of time and not with the biggest of casts.
Performed by a group of D/deaf and disabled artists who creatively used British Sign Language, audio description and captioning to reach all audiences, which added a level of depth to their performance that places it in a level of its own. Accessibility in the arts is a fight still being fought but being able to reach audiences of all differently abilities, portrayed by artists of all different abilities, in one sitting, is an accomplishment not to go unnoticed.
Hurricane Protest Songs has a simplistic charm about it that makes it more compelling. The set was nothing but a few painted boxes and a prop here and there, which added the pressure to ensure the acting could carry the audience the rest of the way - to fill in the gaps so to speak - and they did not disappoint. From a radio that wouldn’t work, to a tree growing out of the kitchen floor, never was there a moment where you were jolted back to reality a hard bump.
Each character had their own journey to overcome, their own questions that needed answering but it turns out that they were all looking for the same answers: why am I here? What meaning lies behind my existence? The play did not end with all in its place neatly tied up in a bow and I would argue that was simply the best thing about it. Not only does it stretch the hurricane metaphor as far as it can go, but it’s realistic. The beauty comes from the optimism you can’t help but look for in the sea of uncertainty.
I myself am not the only one who found plenty of words of high praise and support for the talented ensemble.
Annie Blot, audience member, expressed, “It was bloody brilliant, frankly. I was really blown away by it. It had all of those elements I love to see in theatre -just the right amount of poetry and pain. It was very real, and it didn’t wrap up everything neatly at the end and it left you full of possibilities.”
Polly Heighten, audience member, said, “I thought the show was absolutely fantastic and it just worked on so many levels. The idea of the hurricane and the eye of the storm and the not knowing and how you can link the deafness and disability that was evident on that stage. It was holistically saying ‘everything will be okay’.”
The Graeae theatre trains and assists the development of young theatre makers. To support the next ensemble go to www.graeae.org/your-support