Door Ajar Theatre reinterpret Shakespeare’s characters using sign language


The newly-formed Door Ajar Theatre are touring nationally with Thisbe – a BSL-integrated production of a story derived from a sub-plot within Shakespeare’s popular comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Producer Euan Borland talked to Colin Hambrook about the company and its decision to play with principles of creative access.

A woman with an angry expression holds a wand, dagger-like, to a heart rendered in the shape of a spell

Door Ajar Theatre present ‘Thisbe’

Door Ajar Theatre was originally formed in 2015 by writer and performer Samantha Sutherland in order to tell exciting new stories that have live music at their heart.

Thisbe is the company’s debut production – a story that begins at a point where Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream left off -with a reimagining of the tale of the lovers Helena and Demetrius.

“Sam always thought it was odd that Demetrius was the only one still under a love spell at the end of the play. What did that mean for his marriage? Demetrius didn’t love Helena through his own volition so was his love even real?. It felt like an unfinished story.

I thought that was a really interesting premise for a sequel. If Midsummer Night’s Dream explores first love then Thisbe is about what happens when you wake up fourteen years later and don’t recognise your life.

The decision for the company to incorporate a a creatively integrated BSL show happened organically. During our initial run at the VAULT Festival last year we offered one signed performance. Our writer Sam had met our signer Jennifer Wilson on another job and they had really got on.

Jennifer ended up spending a lot of time in rehearsals with us as the show was continually evolving at that stage. Although Jennifer only performed with us once at VAULT she felt like part of our ensemble and it was odd performing the show without her. We knew that if Thisbe was brought back we wanted Jennifer in every show.

One of the nice things about Door Ajar is that it’s an extremely collaborative company. Our ensemble helped to develop the script through a series of workshops. The idea to integrate BSL wasn’t in the original script but came about because we responded to what was happening in the rehearsal process. Over the summer we spent time workshopping new ideas for Thisbe and Jennifer ran a session that explored BSL as a storytelling device.

Jennifer is a great actress and collaborator and because she comes from a theatre background she has excellent storytelling instincts. Jennifer challenged us to think about our story in an entirely new way where suddenly gesture and physicality meant so much more.

The more we thought about it the more we felt it was an important element to include. As a company creating work for the small scale touring scene we want our work to be accessible to as many people as possible. It opened up so many possibilities for us and really tied into the physical, ensemble work we were doing.

This is the first time I have produced a show that has used BSL in this way. In preparation I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop run by Graeae and Old Vic New Voices that explored the creative use of access. Graeae are real masters at thinking about access as a creative part of the production and it was really inspiring to find out more about their process.

The workshop was full of theatre makers from various disciplines and it was great to see so many artists thinking about how they could make their work more accessible. We’re all struggling with tight budgets and the cost of making your work accessible can be daunting but it’s something we should all be fighting to do.

With this particular show I’m excited to see how the use of BSL shapes the physical language of the show. We’ve already made some great discoveries during the workshop phase of our process and I’m really excited to see what the cast come up with in rehearsals. I’m really enjoying the sense of scale it’s given us.

Anyone who has seen and enjoyed A Midsummer Night’s Dream will get a kick out of seeing what happens next to these characters but it was important to us that you didn’t need to have seen that play to understand Thisbe. The show should appeal to anyone who enjoys live music, comedy and a good night out.”

Door Ajar Theatre’s Thisbe – with its fusion of magic, music and levity – opens at Theatre Royal Stratford East before going on a national tour. Thisbe is written by Samantha Sutherland, directed by Roberta Zuric, musical direction by David Hewson, BSL interpretation by Jennifer Wilson, and is produced by Euan Borland.

Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN
Tues 21 Feb – Sat 25 Feb 8.00pm (Matinee on Sat 25 at 3.00pm)
Tickets: £10/8

020 8534 0310