The clarity and beauty of the final moments of Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost encapsulated the production as a whole. Performed at London’s Globe Theatre as part of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012, Shakespeare’s early romantic comedy is known for challenging its audience with an unconventional ending. The surprising and unsettling news of the death of Princess Nadia’s father causes the quartet of noble and randy lovers to suspend temporarily their courtship. Facing an agreed upon year of chastity and study, the amorous characters, as well as the audience, need a little love poetry to carry them, and us, through. Saving the day, the otherwise ridiculous Spaniard, Don Armado—frothily played by Adam Bassett—steps forward to perform the poem “Spring and Winter” for the assembled throng of saddened and sexually frustrated nobles. Don Armado abandons his earlier braggart warrior bravado in favor of a gentle, sensitive, and tender poetry recitation. In this production his performance succeeded in lessening the sting of Shakespeare’s unconventional decision not to follow the news of a King’s impending funeral with a flurry of four weddings. What made Bassett’s performance of this ode to life and death mesmerizing and unique was that he did not make a sound.
One of several successful translations of Shakespeare’s diction into British Sign Language, Don Armado’s performance of “Spring and Winter” played to a blended deaf and hearing audience. Established in 2002, Deafinitely Theatre is a professional theatre company led by deaf people. As stated in the program notes, the company “aims to build a bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds by performing to both groups as one audience.” As Don Armado, Bassett’s masterful manipulation of sweeping arms, delicate flinger flicks, and gentle prancing enthralled the blended audience. Indeed, the fluid translation of Shakespeare into British Sign Language throughout the performance captured the imagery of [End Page 584]
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Shakespeare’s words in ways that made the auditory elements of language almost superfluous.
This is not to suggest that the hearing audience understood every word. Certain lines from this pun-laden play challenge intelligibility even when conventionally performed. Thankfully, the Globe Theatre placed two electronic screens on either side of the thrust stage. Instead of displaying Shakespeare’s text, these helpful panels simply summarized key actions—i.e. “Don Armando recites a poem entitled Spring and Winter.” Not having to decipher the core meanings of Elizabethan text freed the audience to appreciate how well the talented pool of deaf actors played goals and physically expressed subtext. Love’s Labour’s Lost abounds with esoteric puns, many of which are sexual in nature. Ironically, the physicalized dialogue typically emphasized the secondary double-entendre of the puns more clearly than the literal meanings. For example, in 2.1, Maria—spiritedly played by Donna Mullings—poked fun at her admirer, Longaville, by isolating one knuckle of her pinky and wiggling it near her waist. We may reasonably assume that her gestures corresponded with her line that Longaville “is a sharp wit matched with too blunt a will.” Mullings’s sign language subverted the plain-sense meaning of Longaville’s penchant for witty banter in favor of mockingly revealing the diminutive size of his penis. Shortly thereafter the Princess—wickedly played by Nadia Nadarajah—answered with a bawdy progression of gestures graphically reenacting what appeared to be a moment...