The first year of university is unpredictable for any young person, as they take their first independent steps away from home, forge brand new friendships, and even fall in love. Being deaf brings a whole different set of challenges to this scary new time, as ‘Noise’ explores.
‘Noise’ is something of a Birmingham baby; written by Birmingham Rep Foundry artist Thomas Moran, produced by local company Present Absence Theatre, and receiving its world premiere at The Old Rep. The play follows twelve months in the lives of deaf fresher Evan and his new flatmates; arty Rosie, laid back Josh, prickly Kate, and the boy he ends up falling for, Harry.
“One of the key ideas that empowered me when writing ‘Noise’ was the common desire to hear the words ‘I love you’ and, whether signed or spoken, the immense weight those words can carry,” says playwright Thomas Moran.
The performances are universally strong, and at no point are the any of the small cast reduced to stereotypes; each character gets the chance to be funny, vulnerable, selfish and brave. What’s more, the chemistry shared by all of the cast members enables them to demonstrate the kind of fierce surrogate family bond that can often develop in the first year of uni. Special mentions must go to Dominic Holmes and Nicolas Ancelin as Harry and Evan, whose love story is at the centre of the play.
The minimalist set design limits the action almost entirely to the student flat, often splitting the group up into pairs for intimate late night chats in bedrooms and drunken heart to hearts in the kitchen — an authentic remnant from most people’s university experience. This also means that scenes when all five characters are together take on extra meaning, especially as ‘Noise’ builds to its emotionally affecting climax.
Perhaps the most exceptional thing about ‘Noise’ is its format; the entire show is designed to be as immersive and accessible as possible. Dialogue is projected onto a giant screen which is incorporated into the scenery, all performances are signed, and audio-visual description headsets are available, meaning individuals with visual or hearing impairments can feel just as involved in the story.
Sure, the script includes one or two slightly clunky moments in which the social issues being discussed stick out and it almost feels as if the actors are turning to the audience and mouthing “there’s a lesson here.” But, for the most part, ‘Noise’ is a naturalistic, organic portrayal of what it means to be young and in love; and that’s the kind of story that will resonate with any audience member.