Louder Is not Always Clearer is a two man duet. A man in a T-shirt is sitting behind a desk, facing the audience. On the desk there is a computer.
Another man is wearing a white doctor’s coat behind a second desk. On this desk are a computer and a sound mixing desk. On the stage are a microphone, a stand, a projection screen, a loudspeaker, a bucket.
The show is about Jonny: Jonny is d/Deaf. It is also about how we, the majority of the audience, the hearing audience, communicate and often miscommunicate with d/Deaf people. It is an attempt to communicate what is often hard to communicate. The honest truth of being misunderstood.
There are many touching moments in the work. It starts with learning to speak, to make sounds. It is often hard, you see the strain in Jonny’s face, his neck muscles moving to the sounds.
Listening to the recorded voice of Jonny’s mum is particularly powerful. Her voice speaks of so much prejudice, most of it her own, and most of this text addresses how disability was viewed when Jonny was a kid and her coming to accept his deafness and disability now. There are the stories of awkward dates. Stories of having sex with the light on. Stories and attempts of lip reading, for him and for us. Stories of muffled hearing aids and how sometimes the best thing you can do with a hearing aid is to take it off, leave it behind, turn it off, give it to a deaf girl in India. Stories of feeling the bass when dancing. Stories of New Year’s parties and karaoke singing, his friends singing not him. Stories of stigma, prejudice and honesty.
Stories poignant in relation to these 75 minutes in our hearing world. The hearing world which we as a society have normalised and demand others fit into.
There is a wonderful moment when Jonny signs with two audience members in front of me. I assume they are D/deaf; I see their hearing aids; I for one have no idea what is being communicated, and in that moment that I get a glimpse of what it is to be left out of the loop, what that feels like and how lonely it must sometimes be.
I wish more was made of the relationship between the sound engineer and Jonny, these men who share the stage to tell this story of communication – and yet so little seems to pass between them.
And in a sense I wish there were more of the silences Jonny speaks of, more of the awkwardness, because for us too, sat in the auditorium, this is like one of the awkward dates he speaks of. It is often hard to know how to communicate with people different to what we know, our worries of how to do it right, how we are perceived, how to be sensitive, getting in the way.
And here lies the true impetus of the show: to understand that difference is to know how to embrace it.