Rehearsals here at BoP are well underway, so we took the chance to ask Lesley Hart, the writer of Role Shift, a few questions about the project. Lesley is an actor who has worked extensively in film, theatre and television and was awarded Playwright Studio Scotland’s Award in 2011. Her work has been performed at Oran Mor, the Traverse and on BBC Radio Scotland.
1) What interests you about British Sign Language and the role of the interpreter?
So many things! The main being that it is entirely physical and characterised by a direct embodiment of everything the BSL user is referencing. I am fascinated by the principle of Role Shift. Rather than talk about other people in the third person, with that level of remove, the BSL user assumes their role, adopts their physicality, and has a visceral experience of them.
The role of the interpreter fascinates me because they are the link between deaf and hearing communities, a crucial link in every aspect of life, and of course in the theatre. The idea that the interpreter is merely a conduit however, delivering whole plays and playing every role while being invisible as themselves – or being largely ignored – is a curious paradox and one that I try to take on with the play.
2) What’s the story about?
It’s about what happens when separate worlds collide in an entirely new way, forcing three very different people to negotiate new kinds of relationships. But put simply, it’s a star crossed love story with a twist – the twist being that the interpreter gets drawn into the action and changes the story.
3) What drew you to this project?
Birds of Paradise are making world-class theatre in incredibly innovative and inspiring ways, and I am a die-hard devotee of A Play A Pie and A Pint (as writer, actress, audience member, pie-eater and pint-drinker) – so obviously couldn’t resist the opportunity to combine the two.
In terms of BoP shows, I was particularly inspired recently by Wendy Hoose – not just the freshness, humour and brilliance of the story and performances, but also the ways it integrates the captioning and BSL in a way that enhances the storytelling for the whole audience. The prospect of writing a part for Robert was also irresistible – and a license to talk dirty! [Robert Softley Gale plays the part of Ally in Role Shift]
4) From your research for Role Shift, what did you discover about interpreters within theatre?
Without the generosity of BSL interpreters like Catherine King who, to some extent, inspired the idea, Karen at BoP and of course Natalie who is playing Carrie in Role Shift, there would be no play at all. They have given me invaluable and utterly fascinating insights and information about the cultural contexts and practice of BSL. That continues with every conversation I have with Natalie in the run up to rehearsal, and her involvement in the play will give everyone who encounters it a unique insight into the role of the interpreter and a challenge to consider how we might connect with them differently, and better.