Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The subjects are all articulate and engaging and there's a good deal of interesting content."

Graeae is a London-based theatre company dedicated to foregrounding the work of deaf and disabled performers. Jo Lewis' short but observant documentary follows it through preparations for its first ever performance at the city's National Theatre, as the two-person cast and the production team face the moment that could reshape the way their work is viewed.

The play in question is Jack Thorne's The Solid Life Of Sugar Water, which focuses on a couple coping with the aftermath of a late term miscarriage. Viewers should be aware that it contains some distressing moments related to this issue which, though they're fictional, lack the context that might make them easier to deal with if one were watching the play itself. These moments, however, testify to the ability of the actors and make it very clear that they're reached this moment based on merit, not as a result of quotas or pity. The question that lingers is why it has taken so long for such a capable company to attract this level of notice.

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The Solid Life Of Sugar Water was not originally written with deaf or disabled actors in mind, but Thorne talks through what the lead actress' deafness has added to the role and how he altered the play to fit her. The question he faced was whether her deafness should be incidental or should be made part of the story; he decided on the latter, feeling that it would be inappropriate to ignore it. Though we see what this decision has meant emotionally, there is little said about the thought process involved. What might be apparent to those familiar with these issues - the wider social context of deafness - risks being lost on a more general audience, but on the other hand it helps Lewis to avoid heavy-handedness.

Though the director's touch is refreshingly light, there is an issue here with repetition, and overall the film feels as if it would work better with ten minutes cut out. That said, the subjects are all articulate and engaging and there's a good deal of interesting content. Reflecting Thorne's approach, Lewis brings in issues of deafness and disability but, rather than focusing on the personal, looks at how they impact the professional. This is done through judicious editing and fits smoothly into the whole, which explores aspects of craft and industry. It ends on a plea for the preservation or restoration of government support for the arts, emphasising its importance to letting audiences connect with varied work, and to broadening horizons. Simple as it is, the film makes a strong case for this.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2017
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A documentary about the first ever performance by pioneering Deaf and disabled theatre company Graeae.

Director: Jo Lewis

Year: 2016

Runtime: 55 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2017

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