Review: Louder is Not Always Clearer (Summerhall, Edinburgh)

Jonny Cotsen comes to the Edinburgh Fringe

Louder is Not Always Clearer
Louder is Not Always Clearer
© Jorge Lizalde

The odd thing when you walk out of this impressive piece of physical theatre by deaf artist Jonny Cotsen is how loud the world suddenly seems. It's not that there hasn't been dialogue and even blaring music in this study of the relationship between the deaf and hearing worlds; but it makes you conscious of sound and the way you communicate, both with speech and with silence.

It's an impressive and thought-provoking effect of a delicate work, carefully constructed by the Welsh theatre company Mr & Mrs Clark in association with Cotsen and starring him and Gareth Clark. It begins with silence; Cotsen opens his mouth and appears to want to speak, but no sound comes. "I find words difficult," he types on a laptop and we read the words on the screen.

Then he does begin to speak, making random words from a set of cards – escalator, dinosaur – as he jumps and dances from spot to spot, pushing out the sounds like explosions. "I feel free when I dance," he tells us on screen. But gradually, he also begins to chat – perfectly clearly – and, in gradual stages, explains the story of his life. He was born as a deaf child to hearing parents; his mother wanted him to be the same as anyone else and so guided him through the regular education system; he can lip read as a result.

But signing, discovered later, clearly gives him a freedom that full integration with the hearing world does not. The explorations of Cotsen's vulnerabilities and the clever switches of tone take in a lot of humour. His impressions of the way that hearing people talk to the deaf are both very funny and rather shaming; the moment when he asks us to try to lipread different phrases really fascinating.

It all culminates in a section when he discusses how sad he was that he didn't feel he could sing in public on the night of his own karaoke birthday party. He invites us, the audience, to help him do so. The conclusion is liberating fun. It's a charming, engrossing show.