Exchange Theatre, North Shields
Star rating: 5/5
Although the name John Smith is probably one of the most common and clichéd in England, there is nothing common or clichéd about the performance of this John Smith.
Having enjoyed his show – filled with humorous and high-impact observations rather than straightforward jokes – twice, I knew that nothing bar an outright cancellation would prevent me watching him again.
I was rewarded with a genuinely culturally deaf comedy show that often highlighted the many idiosyncratic quirks of deaf culture and juxtaposed the undeniable distinctions in cultural-related behaviour between deaf and hearing people. Many of his reflections were not without a political flavour, however, and several made clear his views about discrimination by hearing people in life, cochlear implants and oral methods in education – views greeted with uproarious laughter among the audience.
Smith likes to interact with the audience, whether it’s dodging the aim of his water pistol or wearing wigs on stage in order to highlight the patronising attitude of most teachers of the deaf.
The show can’t be described as unsuitable for a hearing audience – I have seen hearing viewers enjoy the show, whether through their knowledge of British Sign Language or through an interpreter – but I cannot deny that many of them will miss out on the true context of Smith’s comedy, as well as the “That’s completely right!” and “That’s so true, I never thought of that” moments. On the other hand, I don’t think any of these non-BSL hearing people left the theatre that night without an increased comprehension of deaf history, culture and issues.
There are other deaf comedians, of course, but I have yet to see someone with the same amount of hilarious, culturally vibrant and animated content. Smith’s performance is one of a widely appealing variety of observations that stimulates, entertains and challenges the outlook of anybody.
Nicholas Padden is a BSL user and freelance TV presenter and interpreter