Words Apart

BATS Theatre, Wellington

14/02/2009 - 18/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Can love bring two star-cross’d lovers together?

Words Apart is a powerful play combining two of our official languages – the verbal English and the visual New Zealand Sign Language.

Words Apart is devised and inspired around the love and hate themes of the great tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Ryan, a young Deaf man and Jules, who is hearing, struggle to convince the Deaf and hearing communities that their love is real; that love is more than just words.

The cast features both Deaf and hearing actors and is the brainchild of director Nicola Clements who learnt to sign as a hobby during University.

"It’s a beautiful expressive language," says Clements. "When I was learning to sign the Deaf community were incredible patient with me – it’s such an open and warm community and we want to welcome our audiences into this world!"  

Words Apart strives to portray Deaf culture not as a disability, but as a difference that can be celebrated, included and equal.

Starring: Darryl Alexander, Ivana Palezevic, Jared Flitcroft, Isaac Heron, and Sophia Scully Elizabeth.

14-18 February 2009, 8.00pm
Bookings: book@bats.co.nz or 04 802 4175
Cost: $16/12/10

Engrossing drama, fringe at its best

Review by Lynn Freeman 25th Feb 2009

Words Apart was, in what’s believed to be a NZ first, sign language and English. As with Polyzygotic, it’s a bit like tuning in to Shakespeare; once you let your mind relax and not get uptight about not understanding every word but rely more on the actions,  you get it. 

Nicola Clements directs Words Apart, one of the Fringe highlights for me so far, a love story where one of the star-crossed lovers is deaf and the other has an embittered big brother on her case. 

One of the things that strikes you is how inherently dramatic sign language is, far more genuinely expressive than the empty gestures of many an actor.  Here we don’t have translators, the actors and their actions are all we need. 

The story reflects prejudices, hearing vs deaf and vice versa.  One of the most potent parts of the play is where the two young lovers argue, putting real and emotional barriers between them, and the silence from Ryan, who’s deaf, screams at you louder than Jules’ frustrated yelling.  Powerful stuff. 

Jared Flitcroft gives an affecting performance as Ryan and Ivana Palezevic slowly reveals Jules’ stubborn streak which helps her stick with a relationship no one else can understand. 

Sophia Elisabeth strikes just the right note as Ryan’s hearing sister Mac, and Isaac Heron captures the frustration of a dyslexic young man resentful of those who can read. 

Engrossing drama, fringe at its best.


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Little complexity or development

Review by Helen Sims 23rd Feb 2009

Words Apart is a simple and sweet show, combining spoken English with New Zealand Sign Language. It loosely draws on Romeo and Juliet for its plot, with a slight twist – Ryan (Romeo) is deaf and Jules (Juliet) is hearing. Their fledging relationship faces prejudice from both of their families – interestingly comprised on both sides of siblings raising their bother/sister due to absent parents. As the programme notes, Ryan and Jules face a battle of proving that their love can overcome the language barrier between them – that it is ‘more than just words’.

It’s a charming premise, but the show lacks punch in practice due to a general failure to create or sustain any tension. Sophia Scully Elizabeth as ‘Mac’ the over-protective older sister of Ryan (Jared Flitcroft) is the first to cast aspersions on the relationship – and from there it all feels a little predictable – perhaps because they are utilising one of the best known stories in the English canon. The relationship between Jules (Ivana Palezvic) and her brother, Ty (Isaac Heron, who also plays Ryan’s friend Ben) is more fraught and complicated. Ty faces his own language difficulties as he can’t read or write well. Heron brings an excellent degree of pent up anger to his role, but ultimately there is little complexity or development.

Interestingly for a show in which one of the languages used is not spoken aloud, there is a lot of exposition of the plot. Perhaps this is unsurprising given that the ‘hearing’ characters often have to explain the Sign Language. Although I can see the necessity of this, it does reduce the theatricality of the show, I don’t think the synthesis of Sign Language and English has reached the point this show is aiming for.

The staging is fairly simple, with black blocks moved around to constitute Mac’s café, Jules and Ty’s home and various other locations. Jules and Ryan also angrily stack them to indicate the wall building up between them. They manage to break through this wall in the moment where both seem to realise they don’t need to explain their feelings with words.

The play concludes abruptly and happily, in an ending that startles due to the lack of resolution leading up to it. I did find myself wondering what would have been interesting about this play if one of the characters had not been deaf, and whether this in turn served to somehow reinforce a sense of difference to ‘otherness’. However, the deaf members of the audience seemed to recognise a lot of the prejudice and difficulty they face from the ‘hearing’ community and appreciate seeing work that was in their language.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader


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Impossible not to care

Review by John Smythe 16th Feb 2009

Clever title. That Ryan (Jared Flitcroft) is deaf and Jules (Ivana Palezevic) is hearing does seem to place them worlds apart and it’s language that is the issue. Or that’s how others see it, anyway. But when you’re in love …

As a play (devised), Words Apart is necessarily simple, if not simplistic, in the same way that conversation has to be when neither speaks the other’s language fluently. Jules is learning to sign, in order to be a translator, and Ryan – who works as a waiter in his sister’s café – is patient in accommodating her early attempts, so it’s not a big problem for them. In fact it generates fun and brings them closer … except when it doesn’t. ‘The path of true love never did run smooth.’

There are tracts of dialogue that are totally signed, e.g. between Ryan and his ball-sports mate Ben (Isaac Heron). Others are spoken between hearing characters, e.g. Jules and her brother Ty (Heron again); Ryan and his sister Mac (Sophia Scully Elisabeth), but most of the time simultaneous signing is validated, e.g. because Jules needs to practice. This way the deaf audience is not left behind, and the deaf and hearing alike get to experience moments of non-comprehension.

That both Jules and Ryan have lost their respective parents and are in the care of their older siblings – both of whom are intolerant of the emerging relationship – seems rather contrived to me. Perhaps if that shared unusual circumstance was a catalyst for bringing Jules and Ryan closer, it would earn its keep.

Ty’s ignorant intolerance and his supposed protectiveness towards his sister, even to the point of violently attacking Ryan, is especially simplistic and hard to credit in principle, although his regret becomes a good pay-off moment. Mac’s concern for Ryan’s wellbeing within Jules’ social circle is a little easier to believe, except it’s patronising and we already know he is well able to look after himself in the hearing world.  

But the play itself is a contrivance by which we each get to stop and consider how it is for the others, and in this it regard it works very well. Directed by Nicola Clements, the action flows well from scene to scene – 12 black boxes judiciously used – and the performers are relaxed and intentional, demanding we believe as strongly as they do. 

Heron doubles impressively as Ben and Ty and Elisabeth brings a compelling presence to Mac. Pelzevic and Flitcroft are so tuned into their characters’ emotional journeys, and their chemistry is so volatile, it is impossible not to care.


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