Not by Bread Alone

Nerida Dickinson

A thought-provoking and challenging display of determination and the best of the human spirit.
Not by Bread Alone

Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble brings a new sense of the world in a production that celebrates the triumph of creativity over the performers’ absence of sight and hearing ability.

The performers sit at long tables in silence, wearing aprons, kneading dough, featureless masks covering their faces. Every now and again a flour-covered hand reaches out to the next hand, grabs a wrist or palm, taps their fingers briskly and then withdraws back to the preparation of bread. These actors are both deaf and blind, and watching them perform this simple activity is itself fascinating.

Standing and removing their masks as they are individually introduced, some sign their speeches, or signal to one of their companions to speak for them, the English translation displaying in clear surtitles projected at the rear of the stage. When the introduction is spoken, sign language interpreters sign for the benefit of hearing-impaired audience members. These logistical difficulties aside, the dreams shared are poignant in their accessibility – the love of dancing, the longing to see the faces of loved ones, a dream of watching television, a bookworm who reads in Braille – and are sprinkled with jokes and jabs at each other. The sense is one of welcome, being welcomed into their lives, dreams, silence and darkness.

The scene change is signalled by drums thumping, and sighted assistants move furniture and guide groups of performers to their next positions. A celebration of life’s pleasure features slapstick routines, stilt-walking, drinking coffee, eating ice cream, shaving one’s face and dancing gracefully in the centre of the stage. The applause is relayed to the performers by the assistants patting them on the shoulders, and beaming bows are taken. A story about rain follows, written by poet and performer, Itshak Hanina, using the tale to reflect on the difference between loneliness and the feeling of isolation from the sensory world, the importance of the simple touch of a hand.

Musical performances feature kitchen utensils, wine bottles, large skinned drums and a keyboard, proving Bela Bartok’s theory about the piano being essentially a percussion instrument. Some conversational pieces revisit the frustration of isolation from general social interaction, facial cues and conversation, cleverly using the drowning screech of a blender to demonstrate the sensation of exclusion. 

The pathos of many of the performers’ stories is more than countered by the sheer joy evident in their performance. A strong sense of pride in their identity as actors comes through, dispelling any patronising thoughts of freak-show novelty.

The logistics of performance can become a barrier between the actors and the audience, with the speech patterns of the deaf players being hard on the ear, while impressing with their determination to be heard. The surtitles and signing interpreters are challenging to follow along with the main action, but as each piece is relatively simple in design, this again is a minor quibble.

Closing with an invitation to come on stage and interact with the performers, many of whom speak of touch as the only way that they can know someone is actually there, is a generous gesture to the many in the audience who are touched by the determined spirit, joyous performance and resilient talent of the members of Nalaga’at Theatre.

An inspirational part of this year’s Perth International Arts Festival, Not by Bread Alone provokes a wide variety of responses in the audience, a sign of compelling art.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Not by Bread Alone

Presented by Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre

Conceived and directed by Adina Tal

Created by Adina Tal and Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble

Original Music: Amnon Baaham

Dancing Closely written and performed by Zvi Tal

Set Design: Eithan Ronel

Costume Design: Dafna Grossman

Lighting Design: Ori Rubinstein

Props: Liron Koren

Translators: Yoav Chorev, Guy Herling, Shiran Havatzelet Tweeto, Ayal Ben Or, Lolita Mirson, Or Knohl, Orya Tal, Ran Ben Chaya, Rani Gilon, Rola Ebd El Gani

Performers: Rafael Akoa, Itshak Hagay Hanina, Nurani Levy, Zipora Malca, Igor Osherov, Yuri Osherov, Bat Sheva Rabansari, Shoshana Rozilia Segal, Evgena Shtesky, Yuriy Tverdovskyy and Mark Yaroski

Regal Theatre, Subiaco

Perth International Arts Festival 2014

8 – 12 February

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.