Scored in Silence at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: an intelligent, compassionate piece of art
Art is, debatably, all about perspective – whether it’s your own or someone else’s, the great power of art is to be granted an insight into another mindset; another way of life. Art is a way of reaching across cultural divides and borders to find some sort of connection in the nexus of our collective humanity.
That is why, ultimately, it is so important for art to give a voice to fringe perspectives – it constitutes a welcoming of diversity into the global cultural conversation that might not keep the world turning, but certainly keeps us invested in keeping it turning.
Scored in Silence gives a voice to the perspective of the deaf survivors that were left behind after the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945. It is performed and created by Chisato Minamimura, with projections from Dave Packer. The performance is in BSL, with Peter Abraham providing a voice-over for the majority of audience members who aren’t able to understand sign language. The audience is also equipped with ‘Woojer’ straps – vibrating belts which convert Danny Bright’s sound design into vibrations.
Minamimura performs from behind a transparent screen with projections overlayed on top of her as she narrates the stories of the ‘hibakusha’. When the show begins, she gives us a brief overview of the bombings, before moving on to discuss survivor testimonies and the impact of being deaf on a person’s experience of an already horrific event. It’s a compassionate, meditative look at some of the untold tales from one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century – tales which deserve to be heard.
The performance mixes BSL with a sort of physical-theatre/dance; Minamimura wearing a loose, flapping white shirt that makes her look like a spirit floating through the dead space of the venue. Beautiful, haunting and expressive, her performance is absolutely captivating throughout the 50-minute piece. Impressive, too, are her interactions with the animations – treating the two-dimensional surface as a three-dimensional environment. At times, the illusion is so effective it’s uncanny.
The Woojer device is an interesting inclusion – it’s predominantly used for gaming – and I wonder what it would be like to wear one from a deaf perspective. From a hearing perspective, it just felt a bit like there was some vibration in time with the (sparingly used, and minimal) music – like a wearable subwoofer – than anything more immersive or actually adding to the experience. The use of the belt for a sort of tactile haptic feedback (e.g. as if simulating a mouse click) is perhaps a more productive avenue but still, from a hearing perspective, doesn’t add too much to the experience. Scenes where there appeared to be no audio, and instead only vibration, were the most effective – touch was able to replace hearing as the source of secondary sensory emphasis after sight. It is, if nothing else at times, interesting to contemplate the avenues in which technology can attempt to level the sensory playing field between deaf and hearing people.
Ultimately, I did feel like there were some areas where the production could be elevated. The first was the repetitive structure of the piece, which quickly becomes ‘this is the story of a man’, ‘this is the story of a woman’, ‘this is the story of a man’ etc. etc. It would be nice for there to be some more interludes from Minamimura breaking up the testimonies. Secondly, given how anonymous this show can be, I wonder if some of the stories are made up. If they aren’t, then projected faces and names would be a nice touch. If they are, then maybe it should be made a little more clear that they are, because it seemed to me to be presented as non-fiction. Thirdly, and finally, some of the animations could probably do with a little upgrade – simple is fine (simple is good in most cases) but the use of stick figures with vector-graphic faces feels a little cheap at times.
Still, for me, what really stood out about this piece was that it allowed me as a British, hearing person to experience and learn about a perspective completely different to my own. The issues that a deaf person might face in a catastrophic event like Hiroshima is something I’ve never thought about, and this intelligent, compassionate production allows us a glimpse into that world. From the perspective of the audience, too, this is the first BSL show I’ve seen on the Fringe – it’s surely super important to champion both deaf-led work and also work that’s suitable for deaf people.
By the time the show ends with a bracing, unifying call for peace from Minamimura, there are more than a few moist eyes in the room. Even at 10:10, which is just an unacceptably early time to put on a Fringe show, it’s been a fantastic hour.