Here/Not Here

Jonzi D with music by Torben Lars Sylvest
Bim Ajadi, Film 4 / BSL Zone

Here/Not Here has been extensively promoted on theatre web sites. This is unusual as the methods of communication it utilises seem best suited for the screen than the stage. The short film is a deaf hip-hop drama which in which communication is via spoken word (with subtitles), British Sign Language, Visual Vernacular (the choreographed form of sign language) and the dance style Krump. It also mixes established and first-time actors, dancers and Visual Vernacular performers.

Three groups of young people meet in a situation that could easily slip into conflict. Government-imposed austerity savings have closed down all community facilities leaving them to compete for the only available space in an abandoned warehouse. Although the groups have very different interests—football, dance and Visual Vernacular—they are surprised to find they are able to resolve their differences by concentrating on what they have in common rather than what sets them apart.

Author Jonzi D suggests the characters are each, in their own way, challenging how they are perceived. A female footballer rebels against how she is expected to behave as a dutiful daughter and a deaf person objects to how he is seen by wider society. Although each of the characters is angry, there is a growing awareness such emotion is best directed at the outside interests that are hostile to the groups rather than to each other.

With so much material and only a limited running time, director Bim Ajadi is compelled to take a brisk approach that, at times, feels like the audience is being offered samples of the various styles. The tone of the film is jumpy—moving abruptly from one style to another; at one point, the cast slip out of character to express their motivation direct to the audience in rap songs.

It is clear the stage would be less suitable than the screen for this particular story. The close-ups allowed by the screen show the shadow images created by Visual Vernacular to best effect. Krump is an intense, ritualised form of dance, highly aggressive with stomping feet and beating chests. The cathartic release that comes from a dancer flying across the stage in great leaps and bounds would be wasted here while the intimacy of the screen facilitates the intensity of the dance.

The confrontational approach of Krump influences how the other methods of communication are utilised. A deaf actor’s speech becomes intensely physical with his tormented face reflected in a series of broken mirrors and the anger underlying a speech entirely in sign language is apparent in the facial reactions, body language and the speed and aggression of the gestures.

Although Here/Not Here concerns possible conflict and employs aggressive styles, the more positive approach taken by Jonzi D and Bim Ajadi illustrates how communication can side-step confrontation and promote unity.

(Here/Not Here is repeated on Film 4 at 8AM and Together TV at 7PM and 10PM on 18 May 2020 and is available online on BSL Zone.)

Reviewer: David Cunningham