This week, 12th – 18th March, is Sign Language Week in the UK (The international one will be in September), as the week that BSL was formally recognised as a language of the United Kingdom, on 18th March 2003.
15 years later and it’s arguable that not much progress has been made. BSL still does not enjoy the same legal status that other indigenous language of the UK do (Welsh for example) and recently, on 6th March, the proposal for a BSL GCSE was completely stonewalled despite clear support from various MPs in a parliamentary debate broadcast live on parliament.tv – the first live parliament debate to be broadcast with simultaneous BSL interpretation – after a petition started by Wayne Barrow gained thousands of signatures.
That said, other recent events have given me hope for the future. On 4th March, The Silent Child, a short film about a 4 year old deaf girl who lives in the proverbial world of silence until a social worker teaches her sign language, won an Oscar for best Live Action Short Film. An Oscar! And to make it even better, the writer and actress Rachel Shenton signed her acceptance speech because she’d promised the film’s star, the amazing Maisie Sly, that’s what she’d do if they won. Sign Language in an acceptance speech hasn’t happened since Marlee Matlin won her Oscar in 1987. The speech hit the headlines and the cheers of the deaf community went up around the world. Also, this video of Maisie’s father telling her how proud he is of her is the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time.
On the same evening, Deafinitely Theatre won an Off-West End award for Best Production with their play Contractions, which had been performed in BSL and English at the New Diorama Theatre in November 2017. It was just their luck that the Offies clashed with the Oscars or they’d have been the big news of the day. As it is, congratulations are richly deserved by in that production as well.
And just last week, on Tuesday 13th March, I saw Hamlet, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company no less, interpreted in BSL. Not just interpreted, integrated – instead of being shuffled off to the side of the stage and respectfully ignored by the cast as usually happens, this interpreter was in amongst the action, shadowing Hamlet and the other characters, running with them, occasionally offering comfort and *gasp* emoting. She interpreted Shakespeare non-stop for three hours and thoroughly deserved the flowers she got from the cast at the end – who also signed “thank you for coming” in unison to the audience. I take my hat off to Becky Barry, and to the RSC for having the wherewithal to have BSL interpreted / integrated and captioned performances – here’s a link to their upcoming assisted performances, they definitely deserve a look.
Shakespeare in BSL is not a new idea; Taking Flight Theatre in Wales have put on a BSL-integrated Shakespeare play every summer for the last few years and I was lucky enough to see Love’s Labour’s Lost fully performed in BSL by Deafinitely Theatre in 2012.
BSL is a beautiful language, and I can’t wait for the day that it has full legal recognition and protection in British Law. And a GCSE…
In honour of Sign Language Week, I decided to have a go at filming a Shakespearean sonnet, hoping to emulate Shakespeare’s eloquence in English in BSL. I hope I do it justice – both the sonnet and BSL!
Also, I thought it’d be a laugh to perform “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” on a snowy day in March 🙂