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Guest Blog: Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English On Short Film MY DARLING CHRISTOPHER

Guest Blog: Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English On Short Film MY DARLING CHRISTOPHER
My Darling Christopher

My Darling Christopher is Hot Coals Theatre's first film project and focuses on the real-life story of a man called Clive who, at the beginning of World War II, contracted Meningitis and lost his sight and hearing. Over time, his sight returned, but his hearing never has. My Darling Christopher experiments with language on screen and interweaves English, British Sign Language and Visual Vernacular, which is a sophisticated form of mime used within the Deaf community.

Creating and delivering a new piece during lockdown has been quite a strange experience. At the beginning of the year, we thought we would be making a full-scale theatre production inspired by Clive's life called A New Way of Life for the RADA Festival - then we found ourselves making a short film instead!

The process has been a huge learning curve for us, having never made a film before, but it's been so rewarding. We knew we wanted to bring everything we've learnt over eight years of making accessible theatre to this film project, so we just had to think how it transferred from one medium to the other.

We had already done a lot of the background work for the theatre piece, including interviewing Clive, historical research, and an R&D with actors at the end of January - before lockdown was on the cards - so we had lots of material to draw from. We knew there was no way we could condense Clive's whole story into a 10-minute short, so we decided to focus on the plane crash element, because we thought it would be the perfect way to explore Visual Vernacular on screen.

We decided to frame the piece in a letter from Clive's mother, Dorothy, to his father, Christopher. This gave us a clear structure for the film and also gave us the opportunity to explore Dorothy's character in more detail. After that, it was a case of writing the initial letter, then transferring it into a film script and a shot list - all new areas for us. At Hot Coals, we've always learnt as we go and we've always worked just outside our comfort zone - this project was no different!

Guest Blog: Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English On Short Film MY DARLING CHRISTOPHER
My Darling Christopher

When it came to telling Clive's story, we realised we had not only a responsibility to Clive and his tale, but an opportunity to expose our audience to a very different experience of wartime Britain. Had our audience ever considered what life was like for a Deaf person during the war? How men unable to join the military because of an invisible "disability" would have been treated by people who scorned those who did not join up? How air raid warnings would have been in the form of a siren, and how the bomb shelters were often black as night and Deaf people communicate visually?

Obviously, we couldn't cover all of this in a 10-minute film, but we could start to explore it, and as a company made up of one Deaf and one hearing artist, we really felt it important to start telling these stories - Deaf stories.

For My Darling Christopher, and for the full theatre production A New Way of Life, we have a plan to use a mixture of Deaf, hearing and visually impaired artists, to bring the full perspective of Clive's experience. The show, like the film, will be told through visual storytelling, and will be accessible to both Deaf and hearing audiences in a shared experience.

The film was our first step in experimenting with how we can use captioned English, BSL and Visual Vernacular to tell one part of the story, and we are thoroughly looking forward to bringing this new blend to the stage with this incredible cast, to tell the rest of Clive's beautiful story.

My Darling Christopher is available to watch now as part of HOME Manchester's Homemakers festival

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