Fow Review [AD]

Fow promotional poster. A background with the effect of lined paper with illustrations of the 3 main characters, Siôn in purple, Josh in orange and Lissa in blue. With the word FOW in yellow writing on a diaganol over the illustrations.

*AD* A disclaimer to say that I was invited to review this show and recieved a comp ticket.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this show ever since Steph (who came up with the concept for the show and also acts in it) won a grant to develop her idea from Unlimited. And here it finally is. Although in a completely different format than first imagined having been created for online streaming as Taking Flight and Deaf and Fabulous Productions continue to explore making theatre and creative access for digital performance.

Fow is a coproduction between The Welfare and Theatrau Sir Gâr it is written by Alun Saunders and directed by Elise Davison.

But what is a Fow? What does it mean? According to Taking Flight’s website a Fow is a ‘BSL lip pattern accompanying a sign meaning a breakdown in communication/ inability to understand’ and that there is ‘no direct translation in English or Welsh the closest being the phrase “that went straight over my head!”‘

With this show being trilingual using BSL, Cymraeg and English there may be times that you experience “fow” by not understanding what is being said at all times. But don’t worry that’s all part of the experience and part of the show’s design to help the audience empathise with the characters in the show and of course in real life. It helps us understand the value of language and communication in society, how easy it is to misinterpret one another and how we can connect even when we don’t speak the same language.

I definitely experienced fow during the BSL sections and realised just how reliant on sound I am to listen and watch when viewing something on screen, that some how when there’s no sound my brain thinks there’s nothing happening, which I kept berating myself for as it’s a bad habit and is a disservice to Steph’s acting. But when I challenged that instinct I felt a sense of pride if I grasped the concept of what was being signed which seemed to get better as the show progressed (well I think it did). Funnily whilst taking notes I ended up writing a sentence that was such a jumble of Welsh and English.

Fow is a love story that follows the lives of Lissa, played by Steph Back, a deaf university student who the last thing she needs is to fall in love, wannabe Rock Star Siôn played by Jed O’Reilly, the love interest who’s desperately in love and about to have his heart broken and Josh, played by Ioan Gwyn, Lissa’s hearing older brother who’s big into gaming.

It’s fair to say Lissa and Siôn don’t get off to the best start when they meet under awkward circumstances which leads to misunderstanding not just of the circumstances but linguistic misunderstanding as they struggle to communicate with one another. The play explores the themes of language, culture and communication and ultimately asks ‘how we fall in love when we don’t hear each other?’

As well as being a love story writer Alun Saunders has organically woven in many lessons in D/deaf awareness which the audience can take into their own lives such as shouting thinking it will help a D/deaf person hear you and making up any old sign with your hands thinking they’ll understand what that “sign” means. We also learn that Lissa has difficulty understanding Siôn as she can’t understand his speech patterns as she tries to lip read when he speaks Welsh and not English as she would usually expect.

As well as the difference in languages, we also see communication problems of a different kind between Josh and his wife Lek showing that sometimes there is more to communication than speaking the same language (even though Lek’s first language is Polish). This helps us realise how integral communication is to our relationships, whether that be in romantic relationships, siblings, parents or friends.

Becky Davies’ illustrations give this show a distinct and edgy look bringing the characters worlds to life and help us forget that the actors are all acting from their homes. Elise Davison has cleverly intertwined the illustrations with the action by having the actors use them physically as props or set and also as digital effects, which you can see examples of above.  In the first image we can see Siôn has one of the illustrations as a set to show that he is on a train and Josh uses an illustration of a sword as a prop with digital images on the screen to show he is playing a video game. And in the second image we see a digital image of a phone which gets animated to show that it is vibrating and ringing.

These designs are also bought to life with the help of Dan Lawrence’s sound design, which also really helps us inhabit the characters environment, whether that be on a train or in the pub, making us again forget the actors are all filming separately from their own homes. It also very cleverly helps add meaning and understanding to languages we might not understand.

A special mention to the actors and director Elise Davison for making us believe the characters are in close proximity to one another and skillfully bringing Saunders’ script to life.

It’s really great to see how much this area of performance has developed over the course of the pandemic with exploration, experimenting and collaboration. Taking Flight really have led the way in still making theatre that we can enjoy when our theatre buildings have been closed and even better making it accessible.

Fow runs online from Thursday 29th April til Wednesday 5th May, which partly coincides with Deaf awareness week and is recommended for ages 14+. It features integrated captions available in both Cymraeg and English or just English if you wish to experience less fow and BSL interpretation.

You can view a video trailer and other introductory videos as well as an audio flyer on Taking Flight’s website. It’s also well worth checking out @DeafFabulous and @TakingFlightTheatre’s Twitter feeds for more promotional videos. You can book through Theatrau Sir Gâr or The Welfare .

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