In association with RADA, Hot Coals Theatre have released a short film as part of HOME Manchester’s Homemakers series. My Darling Christopher has been created entirely during lockdown, and could be viewed as an early draft of a bigger theatrical piece which has been put on hold as a result of the pandemic.
The film, which runs at under eight minutes, is comprised of a letter being read by Christopher who is serving in the Navy. It’s been written by his wife and the subject is their son, Clive, who has lost his sight and hearing due to meningitis, and is attending Goring School following the evacuation of Margate School for the deaf.
Clive is in fact a real person, Clive Davis, and it is he who will be the subject of the expanded theatrical piece. What isn’t clear is if the letter was actually sent, or has been imagined by writer Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English, though we have to assume it’s the latter. It begins like a fairly normal letter, until Christopher’s wife Dorothy drops the bombshell that a plane has crashed just metres from Clive’s classroom.
Dorothy, who we hear reading the letter, displays only the merest hint of emotion over the incident, declaring, in response to Clive’s own excited letter to herself, that “boys will be boys.” We would also assume that Christopher, serving in some foreign land or sea, should also be concerned, but there’s barely even a flicker from him either. The most important plot point, sadly becomes a missed opportunity.
Visually, My Darling Christopher looks fantastic. It’s well shot and edited together perfectly, all the more amazing that the entire thing was done during lockdown, but still manages to employ suitable locations and costumes. Hot Coals Theatre create work that is visually accessible to hearing and D/deaf audiences, and again they succeed on this front; the spoken English is captioned, and BSL is integrated to the performance.
There’s a third language used, known as Visual Vernacular, which to a first time viewer resembles a form of mime. It certainly helps convey the downward journey of the fighter plane, but more importantly creates a shared experience for hearing and D/deaf audiences.
There’s a lot of potential in My Darling Christopher, with plenty to explore from all three family members perspectives, and Clive’s experiences of growing up during the war as both Deaf and partially sighted would certainly make for a compelling narrative. The filmed short perhaps doesn’t do that bigger story justice, but it is well made, and achieves it’s aims from a visual point of view.