Doncaster pantomime is changing the narrative around inclusive performances through their integration of sign language
The pantomime has been designed for everyone to enjoy no matter their disability or differences.
It is commonplace for theatres to put on additional altered versions of their shows for deaf audiences but Cast has decided to do something bold when they made their annual pantomime inclusive for everyone - every show.
This is a step in the right direction according to Connor Bryson who plays Lemmi the Lemur in Aladdin.
Last year he played the Mouse in Cast’s Cinderella which was also an inclusive show but this year they have really stepped it up to make sure that there is more fluidity and integration between the deaf and able hearing actors.
Connor, aged 27 from Scotland, said: “Normally there would be a signer on stage who describes all the dialogue said by actors in the show - they are off to one side, separated.
“This show is different because Lemmi is a real character who is part of the show who just happens to sign.
“He has proper lines and his existence in the show is integral to the plot.
“Lemmi has a cheeky attitude and we really threw out the rule book when we came up with this concept.”
Connor said that it's important that sign language is not seen as something on the side but something normal that flows with the show, not an addition.
His character Lemmi has a 50/50 partnership with Aladdin who is of course the title character in the show.
“He helps Aladdin on his journey,” Connor said.
“Way too often deaf people are seen as needing to be the ones who need help.
“It was great to be able to take a role where I was leading.”
The team behind the show made other alterations to make sure Lemmi was a fun and enjoyable character who would be able to bridge the gap between hearing and deaf audience members.
“Because I’m a Lemur we decided I shouldn’t finger spell,” he said.
“Lemur’s have paws so I have flat gloves on and that changes how I sign.
“It actually makes the signing more clear and easier to read off the stage.”
The show has a British Sign Language Consultant named Darrell Jackson who helped to come up with ideas such as this one.
A lot of time and attention has been put into making sure the show was enjoyable for everyone in the audience no matter their differences.
The cast of the show have taken time to learn some signs and there are multiple deaf actors involved in the production.
The inclusivity of the show is something that will have a large impact on children who watch it this winter.
“Deaf people are often excluded from the world around them,” Connor said.
“I’ve been through that myself - seeing people talk and shout but not being able to understand what they’re trying to say.
“You often feel as if you're on your own.
“Seeing people up on stage sharing your language and your culture is incredible.
“I wish 10 year old me could have had it because it means more than you can imagine.
“Being part of this has really given me a new lease of life.
“Having the support from other actors and people being so willing to learn and accept is fantastic.
“I hope the audience feels the excitement that I do and everyone leaves happy every night.”
Every performance of Aladdin will be the same at Cast which means there will be 87 inclusive shows right up until the end of December.
“This is a step in the right direction,” he said.
“It’s breaking barriers.
“It isn’t about ticking diversity boxes for us, it's a creative way to include everyone.
“It’s still a traditional panto that everyone can enjoy - we haven’t taken away any of the elements that people love.”
There has been a lot of discussion around the deaf community recently due to Rose Ayling and her involvement on Strictly Come Dancing.
Connor said that her shining a spotlight on the community is opening doors here in Doncaster.
He said: “When people watch her on TV every week then come here and watch our performance it is just re-affirming that it’s normal.
“The more people see sign language being used in entertainment settings the more widespread it will be accepted in society.
“She has opened up a conversation and we hope to continue it with our audiences.”
In the future Connor hopes to play more surprising roles.
“Just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I have to play deaf characters,” he said.
“Deaf people can be sexy, evil and multifaceted.
“I would like to mix it up and do something different.”
Aladdin will be performed at Cast until Friday, December 31.
The show tells a story of Aladdin flailing in love with Princess Jasmine and meeting the mysterious genie of the lamp - all while trying to save the world from the cunning sorcerer.
Deborah Rees, director at Cast, said: “We were thrilled to open our Aladdin pantomime at the weekend, and it felt so special to welcome people back to this festive highlight.
“Guests had a great time and enjoyed the vibrant show and audience participation of this cherished Christmas tradition.
“Aladdin is a big family favourite, and we can’t wait to welcome audiences to our performanced up until New Year.
“We have an excellent cast and the panto is filled with laughs and all the fun of the theatre - it’s the perfect way to get into the festive spirit.”
To book tickets to the show click here.