Charlotte Arrowsmith became the first Deaf actor to perform as understudy for a hearing principal actor last week.
When Charlotte Arrowsmith played Vincentia in last Friday's evening performance of The Taming of the Shrew, she had more reason than most to feel nervous. As well as stepping into Melody Brown's shoes to play Vincentia on top of her usual role as Curtis, she was making history by being the first Deaf actor to perform as an understudy for a hearing principal actor.
Not only is this an RSC first, but we believe it to be a first at any major theatre.
Vincentia is a higher status character than Curtis, Charlotte’s usual role in the play. She took inspiration from Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Anne, who was also deaf and part of the aristocracy. By drawing on how the princess was able to learn to lip read in multiple languages, Charlotte found a way to keep her "higher status, richer and more powerful than the rest of the characters, as she is an intelligent lady who defied the odds."
The rest of the company embraced the use of British Sign Language by incorporating some signs and gestures into their performances, helping to integrate Vincentia into the scenes. Although they didn't have much time to prepare for the show, Charlotte was grateful for how hard the group worked: "It shows that nothing is impossible if we try as a team, and with more time it shows how much a mainstream cast can bring together BSL and diversity into the mix."