We’re back at one of the largest multi-arts festivals on the planet and in these last few days, there’s more coming for us…
By Suman Bhuchar (in Edinburgh)
AS I WAIT in the queue for a new show by artist, Rinkoo Barpaga to be performed in British Sign Language (BSL) there is a lot of animated conversations going on around me with hands talking and I realise that there is a huge community of deaf people who are not served by mainstream theatre at all.
The actor, Rose Ayling-Ellis certainly brought awareness of the challenges experienced by deaf people to the fore when she appeared in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ with Giovanni Pernice and their ‘Silent Dance’ changed perceptions completely. Barpaga writes and performs this show with a colleague, Mathais who translates for non-signing people giving audiences an insight into being born “deaf, brown and Brummie” as he puts it.
Born and brought up in Birmingham, the solo performer begins with an Enoch Powell quote which is too complicated to remember and he performs in black t-shirt/shorts with red rim edges and red sneakers. Mathais is also similarly dressed but sits on the side.
This honest and heartfelt show is performed in rapid sign language and some obvious mime.
Barpaga tells his life story and trying to make sense of his identity as a deaf boy, born into a Punjabi family from Kenya/India. He proceeds to take us through a roller coaster of emotions as he goes through his life and how he came to be where he is and how he makes sense of his journey so far.
Directed by Tyrone Huggins and produced by the artist in association with the Pleasance and Deaf Explorer, the show does raise a lot of questions such as the work for deaf artists and what does ‘representation’ mean as a South Asian Deaf artist?
What is the difference between mime and sign language in performance?
The conversations around hearing versus signing – such as should a deaf person be forced to learn to how hear sound as Barpaga was – or should he have been allowed to learn Sign Language at a much younger age.
Leaving aside such questions, there is also the whole exploration about his own sense of belonging and identity and what his own family felt about him as a deaf boy as the taboos around “disability” are much stronger in the Asian community.
So, his father feels the need to take him to the doctor and to get some tests done so he can try and hear sound. It’s a very painful experience. The audience don’t get the sense of his age in the different vignettes about his life.
He goes to a special school for deaf children along with three other boys and they become lifelong friends. They all travel together in a cab driven by different drivers and there is a lot of humour in these scenes. It is here he first encounters sign language.
Later, he goes to the Punjab in India where ironically he felt free as he was allowed to go on motorcycle rides, go and check out prospective brides for his uncles but there is a scary moment of being held up at gun point by Sikh rebels.
Barpaga experiences racism at his local football club, but is welcomed at his first job in Newcastle as a television presenter and then moves to London working for MTV , enjoys his independence before experiencing unemployment and finally becoming an activist making a film called ‘Double Discrimination’.
The show gives us a raw performance mixed with honest emotions.
ACV rating: **** (Out of five)
Caption: Rinkoo Bargapa (Pleasance publicity still)
‘Made In I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain’
Rinkoo Barpaga in association with Pleasance & Deaf Explorer
Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9JT
(August 3) – Monday, August 29
Pleasance Two – Pleasance Courtyard 1:40pm Restricted to ages 14 and above
More about Rinkoo Bargapa