“We all have visions and dreams, we do not live by bread alone.” So begins the remarkable Not By Bread Alone by deaf-blind theatre ensemble Nalaga’at. In the time that it takes to bake a loaf of bread (a loaf they invite you to share with them afterwards) the 11 members of this company reveal their desires and frustrations in an event that is tenderly defiant. It is also very funny with some mischievous clowning propelling this confidently performed and stylishly staged piece along. Because although all these performers are deaf-blind, there is nothing to be patronised here. Nalaga’at artistic director Adina Tal and the company have created a production that would impress under ordinary circumstances; as it is this piece is extraordinary.
If theatre is about communication, here we have an ensemble so in tune with one another and operating within a communicative system so complex and subtle to the outside eye as to be positively virtuosic. Taking into account each actor’s needs and abilities, the performers and their interpreters ‘speak’ to each other through a sequence of drum beats, sign language, vibrations and touch to create vibrant and visually dexterous scenes. It is a testimony to the human potential to work together to achieve the seemingly impossible (a word Tal refuses to acknowledge).
At a centre in Tel Aviv, Nalaga’at houses not just the theatre but two cafés as well: Café Kapish, where you interact with deaf waiters; and a pitch black restaurant where you are served by blind waiters. LIFT artistic director Mark Ball has wisely chosen to transport all of the above to the Artsdepot and it is a vital part of this experience. Having sat, 10 minutes earlier, in the pitch black, fumbling about trying to do the simplest things like eating and drinking, it gives you a palpable sense of the worlds our performers inhabit, albeit in the smallest possible way. There is also something inherently joyful in eating and drinking in these exceptional spaces, with these exceptional people and it is a joy that permeates this inspirational and warm show.
Nalaga’at means ‘do touch’ in Hebrew and as we are invited to go up to share the bread with the performers and translators at the end, a true act of theatrical communion is performed as appreciation is shown not only through clapping, but touch. We are reaching through the boundaries of darkness and light and communicating clearly with one another.
Runs until Thursday 15th July
Originally written for What’s On Stage