Actor Emily Howlett had to learn to smoke, to play the piano and to shout for her latest role.
Emily is deaf, so shouting doesn’t come naturally, but she’s been working with a voice trainer.
There’s so much of it I can relate to and so much I don’t agree with
She had a breakthrough when she got frustrated and swore loudly and the trainer said: “That’s what I want. Do that!”
Emily added: “I’ve had to learn to play the piano. A hearing person will hear it when it’s a wrong note. I can’t hear any of what I’m playing.”
She was determined to be able to play, though and added: “It’s bloody-mindedness as much as talent. They said, ‘Maybe have a break’ but I said, ‘Not until I’ve played it’.”
The show follows a young man, Billy, who was born deaf into a hearing family.
He has never been treated any differently by them but when he meets Sylvia, who teaches him sign language, he starts to wonder if his family have ever really listened to him.
Emily plays Sylvia. She said: “Sylvia is born to deaf parents and she’s losing her hearing because of the genetics of her mum and dad.
“She’s got an elder brother and seen it happen to him.
“She is struggling a bit with it, then she meets Billy, who is deaf.
“When she meets his family, it kicks off a lot of events that are the play. It seems to be real life for an awful lot of people I know, it’s very representative of real-life experiences.”
Emily said the play isn’t just meant to represent the lives of people with disabilities, though.
“It’s about being different and being part of a minority group or being different in your family.
“You can treat the people you love very badly and never mean to. We all do it.
“I don’t think anyone could watch it and not identify with one of the characters. It’s great we’ve got a variety of them.”
Her experience of deafness is different to Sylvia’s as she had hearing aids from the age of four.
“I don’t really know not being deaf,” she said.
“It’s been really interesting for me to find that character and talk to people in that situation and to bring my experiences of how my life has been to her.
“There’s so much of it I can relate to and so much I don’t agree with at all. It’s been so much fun to play.
“Being deaf doesn’t define who you are but it’s a massive part of who you are.”
She said that Sylvia, as a hearing child of deaf parents, would have to do so much interpreting the world for them and finds herself in a different situation entirely.
“Then she meets this other family who are the exact opposite to hers and she’s been drawn to them, but through this boy who is deaf, something she’s fighting against.”
Emily thinks her industry needs to change its ideas about who should be cast into roles, rather than sidelining people like her into playing only deaf people.
She said: “I really want to say no, it’s all different, but I pretty much get deaf roles.
“It’s not just me but so many of my compatriots.”
Crucible Studio, June 29 to July 22