Walking into the auditorium at the Southwark Playhouse's Vaults, the audience enters a snow-filled landscape populated by sparse trees in a swirling, ethereal fog. On a postcard, the image would be tranquil and beautiful, but in reality, it's a harsh, unforgiving terrain, one that could easily lead to death.
Tanika's Journey charts the story of young, deaf Tanika, a Tamil refugee who is escaping war in Sri Lanka to travel to England via a trek across the forests of the Ukraine. As she rests, exhausted, in the snow-covered clearing, she remembers her previously happy family life in Sri Lanka and the milestones in her refugee journey.
Deafinitely Theatre's moving production combines dance, sign language, music and speech, with just the right amount of humour and warmth to lighten the dark subject matter. In places though, the mixture of forms does not sit happily, and a few scenes are a little hard to follow without an understanding of sign language. But this doesn't matter overall as the general sense of the storyline is clear and beautifully portrayed by an extraordinary cast of both deaf and hearing performers.
Nadia Nadarajah portrays Tanika as joyous, physical and vulnerable, all the while convincingly showing the underlying strength that she needs to survive. Simon Daw (set design) and Ben Rogers (lighting) have produced a setting that is simultaneously gorgeous and frightening - almost another character in the piece.
Director Paula Garfield weaves the scenes together with great skill, drawing wonderfully moving performances from all the cast and with the whole exquisitely choreographed to flow from setting to setting with no loss of momentum.
It's a story of hope, desperate struggle and the strength of the human spirit. Tanika's Journey also reminds us of the extremes to which people will go to escape the horrors that inflict some areas of the world and that if someone has the will, they can achieve anything. An enthralling and immensely moving production.