Landmark show that places deaf artists centre stage set to open this weekend at The MAC

29th March, 2024

An innovative new theatre show which places deaf artists centre stage is set to open this weekend at The MAC, Belfast, as part of the Deaf Arts Festival NI.

Group of three people smiling. One person is positioned inside a prop of a fishing boat.
Sarah Lyle from Cre8 Theatre and Paula Clarke, artist, activist and performer, are pictured with Zoë McWhinney, The Fisherman's Friend

The Fisherman’s Friend, written by Cre8 Theatre and developed with investment from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery funding, is one of twenty festival events that will take place over Easter weekend.

Set in a mythical Northern Irish bay, The Fisherman’s Friend, is a show for all, devised by deaf and hearing artists, under the skilful eye of director and playwright Sarah Lyle. Featuring music, sign song, integrated sign language, visual storytelling, movement and puppetry, it tells the story of one fisherman and an ambitious girl with big dreams for the future.

This is the second year of the Deaf Arts Festival and marks a rapid expansion for the ambitious event, which launched with in 2023 with two theatre shows. Developed with an aspiration to connect with d/Deaf communities across Northern Ireland and beyond, as well as placing deaf artists in key roles, the festival focuses on integrating deaf and hearing communities with a diverse creative programme.

Cre8 Theatre’s Artistic Director Sarah Lyle said,

“It has been an amazing experience collaborating with the d/Deaf community over the last three years. With the support from the Arts Council, The Fisherman’s Friend sees Cre8 artists delve deeper into creating artistic work that really speaks to diverse audiences and incorporates deaf performers. It is also enriching the hearing community in Northern Ireland by offering opportunity to challenge creativity, empowering a new network of brave theatre makers working in wholly inclusive, safe theatre production environments.

Damian Smyth, joint head of drama, dance and literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented:

Cre8 Theatre’s new family-friendly production, ‘The Fisherman’s Friend’ is an original and inspired theatre production from a young local company that is pushing the boundaries of what has come before. Bringing D/deaf and hearing artists together on stage, accompanied by sign language interpretation, captioning and music for vibration, combines to create a thrillingly new and immersive experience for both deaf and hearing audiences. This is a tremendous opportunity to promote the language and culture of the deaf community in the kind of inclusive and compelling way that the arts do best. The Arts Council is delighted to support Cre8 Theatre through our National Lottery funds, as they continue to innovate and engage.”

Other festival highlights to look out for across the weekend include acting workshops, gallery tours, street art design workshops and Easter signed stories and crafts. There are also signing workshops for those keen to build new skills.

Paula Clarke, artist, activist and performer said,

“This project is such an important one. For deaf artists and performers, it can be difficult to break through into mainstream arts as our language and culture are different. Deaf artists being given lead roles in this project enables our community to showcase not only our wonderful language, culture, and stories but also how integrated theatre can be done in a way that welcomes and includes everyone. And this is our belief – everyone regardless of language, background and culture has a place within the arts and a right to enjoy theatre fully. This is about sending a message to the deaf community to remind them that they too can achieve their dreams, and to aim high. It’s also a way of showing the arts world the unique perspective and value that deaf artists can bring to any production.”

The Deaf Arts Festival takes place from Friday 29th March to Sunday 31st March 2024. For more details and the full festival programme visit