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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 03:01 GMT 04:01 UK
Deafness adds twist to TV film
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

A new drama - directed by award-winning director Edmund Coulthard - featuring a deaf character in the lead role is about to be shown on BBC Two.

Photo of Joe Mawle and Susan Lynch against a night-time cityscape
Dean and Penny soon find they have a lot in common

Soundproof stars Joseph Mawle as Dean and Susan Lynch as Penny.

It is a fast-moving, urban thriller in which Mawle's character is the prime suspect in a murder case involving his flatmate.

Lynch plays Penny - a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter - brought in by the police to question Dean who soon emerges as the prime suspect.

But the pair develop a close bond - based around their shared language - which leads Penny to abandon the neutral position of interpreter.

Both actors had to learn BSL in a matter of weeks before the shoot, but Mawle drew on his own experience of deafness to play the part.

Big changes

"I lost my hearing when I was 16 because of a virus," he told the BBC News website.

At the same time, Mawle's parents split up and he moved into a caravan by himself.

"A lot of changes were going on - 16 isn't the best time to have big changes happening. I think the hearing loss was partly psychological and partly physical."

He partially recovered his hearing after two years but continues to wear hearing aids.

Mawle says that learning BSL for the part was "extraordinary".

"It's such a rich language and there's no way in five weeks that I could cram it all in," he said.

Sometimes he watched his instructor, Jean, for 12 hours at a time to get the sign language right for a single scene.

His character, Dean, is a foreigner in a world pitched against BSL users.

Some of the scenes are shot with a muffled soundtrack in order to give the viewer a taste of life from his perspective.

"Obviously he has a lot of barriers and he's a fighter," said Mawle.

"This is something he is constantly trying to repress in order to give himself a fresh start."

Hard cramming

Although not fluent, Mawle says that he has learnt enough BSL to be able to hold a basic conversation.

"I know a lot of BSL users and I have a lot of deaf friends now because of the research I did for the film."

Playing opposite him is Susan Lynch who is cast in the role of a hearing BSL interpreter, Penny.

She describes the learning process as "hard" - she had to cram it into three weeks and says she couldn't have done it without her teacher, John Wilson.

Photo of Susan Lynch using BSL
Lynch's character finds the police interviews difficult

"He was really tough on me which helped a lot," she said.

"In order to communicate with John I had to use BSL constantly, because he's deaf."

She says that using BSL on screen involved a good deal of physical and facial expression.

"Sign doesn't make sense if you just do it with your hands - people need to understand what you're saying with your face as well."

Soundproof is the latest in a series of BBC Two dramas featuring lead characters with disabilities.

The award-winning Flesh and Blood starred Christopher Eccleston as a man who discovered that his birth parents both had learning disabilities.

And last year, Mat Fraser and Lisa Hammond took the lead roles in Every Time You Look at Me - the story of a disabled man trying to come to terms with his identity.

Soundproof is on BBC Two on 12 July at 2100 BST. It will also be transmitted in Sign Zone on 18 July from 0125 BST.

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