The Promise - Theatre Review by Susan Vickers
10th April 2024
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 The Promise is an ambitious and deeply affecting play that immerses the audience in the harsh realities of living with dementia through the lens of a deaf character.


While stories about memory loss are heartbreakingly common, few examine this tragedy from the vantage point of someone already navigating a world of isolation due to deafness whilst within an already inaccessible world of our healthcare system.. The central figure is Rita, a brilliant retired academic who has spent her life fighting for the deaf education system and representation.


In the opening scenes, we see her vibrant passion for life slowly begin to fade as the cruel symptoms of dementia take hold. What makes her downward trajectory particularly poignant is watching her familiar support system of signing friends and loved ones become increasingly foreign to her confused mind. The play brings to life the frustrating reality of the only care care in the whole of England equipped to look after deaf people is in the Isle of Wight.


As Rita (brilliantly portrayed by Anna Seymour) struggles to communicate and comprehend even the most basic functions, the play forces the audience into her profoundly disoriented state. The clever set design, lighting and sound design recreate her skewed perspective, with voices and signs blurring into an unintelligible haze at certain moments. The production's greatest achievement is its uncompromising depiction of the loneliness and fear that someone who is deaf must confront when their final lifeline to coherent communication gets severed by dementia.


There were many moments where the stillness and silence onstage became utterly soul-crushing. The promise has been two years in the making with writers Paula Garfield and Melissa Mostyn drawing on their own experiences and that of the community of dementia. In 2002 Paula Garfield founded Deafinitely Theatre alongside Steven Webb and Kate Furby having become frustrated with the barriers deaf actors and directors faced in mainstream media.


Deafinitely Theatre celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022 and were the first deaf launched and deaf-led theatre company in the UK that works bilingually in British Sign Language and spoken English, producing work that caters to audiences of all ages. While The Promise is certainly a difficult play to experience due to its raw subject matter, it ultimately stands as a powerful reminder of our universal need for human connection and dignity in our final days.


The story may centre on one marginalised perspective of deaf people living with dementia, but its emotional truths are universal. A must-see for any theatregoer unafraid of shedding tears. The Promise is presented by Deafinitely Theatre, Birmingham Rep and Lyric Hammersmith 6 April - 13 April 2024 Tickets from £10 Written by Paula Garfield & Melissa Mostyn Directed by Paula Garfield Age guideline 14+ This performance contains homophobic references and strong language. Please note, no under 5s will be admitted to the auditorium.


Running time Approximately 90 minutes with no interval Access performances BSL & Captioning: All performances are accessible for British Sign Language users, with BSL and creative captions used throughout the production. The captions will appear on stage, integrated within the set design. Relaxed: Thu 11 Apr 2pm Post-show discussion There will be a post-show discussion after the 7pm performance on Fri 12 Apr. Birmingham Rep 6 Centenary Square, Birmingham B1 2EP (0121) 245 2000


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