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In all times of humanitarian crisis it’s easy to consider the victim as a sort of everyman. We picture the devastation impacting swathes of anonymous victims, rather than individual lives and all the complicating factors that permeate them. Scored by Silence seeks to address this oversight. It tells the story of deaf people during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The one-hour online show is both performed and choreographed by Chisato Minamimura, a deaf Japanese woman who tells her silent story through an intoxicating blend of sign language and figurative dance. Minamimura drifts around a dark stage in a flowing white robe, a guardian angel providing a voice for the forgotten victims of the twin tragedies of the atomic bombing.
Through some feat of technical wizardry, Minamimura’s motions are intertwined with elegant white animated lines which add context and colour to her story. These shift and gyrate to represent everything from the bustling trams of Hiroshima, to farmers kneeling down in paddy fields, and the Enola Gay looming over the unknowing city. When everything becomes a little too abstract, narrator Andrea Newlan comes in to explain just what is going on. Newlan’s husky voice speaks with a measured clarity, chillingly jarring with the tragedy described.
The script is a sparse, emotive commentary, which conjures a powerful sense of empathy for an overlooked minority. “Some people did not realise what had happened – and those people were deaf people,” says Newlan. The play features several filmed interviews of deaf survivors of the bombings, making it as much a piece of historical documentation as it is a piece of art.
In an interview to mark the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima last year, Minamimura explained how she researched her show: “I went into an older deaf people’s care home, interviewed the survivors and had a chat with a number of people in that home. They signed their stories to me – and it was so powerful.”
But while the stories told are indeed very powerful, the lack of clear narrative progression sometimes leaves the whole thing slightly wanting. The play never really gets beyond the central message that ‘the bomb is evil’ – a matter which, while undoubtedly true, is a story that has been told many times before. I leave Scored in Silence with the feeling that a little more focus on individual, linear stories could inject the whole thing with a greater dose of humanity, and impart the stories of its deaf subjects with a more piercing sense of realism.
Nevertheless, it is a fine piece of theatre that tells the story of the most-hard-done-by of minorities. The lasting sensation of the Scored in Silence is indeed of the ‘silence’ that gives the play its name. In achieving this, and in spite of its gut-wrenching subject matter, the play both legitimises and celebrates the soundless way in which deaf people experience the world.
Scored in Silence is playing online. For more information, see Chisato Minamimura’s website.