‘Being deaf doesn’t define me,’ says The Accident actress Genevieve Barr

Harrogate actress Genevieve Barr is back starring in a television drama after a break of ten years . Catherine Scott reports.

Genevieve Barr from Harrogate poses during a photocall for the television series "The accident" (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
Genevieve Barr from Harrogate poses during a photocall for the television series "The accident" (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

It is ten years since Harrogate actress Genevieve Barr starred in her television debut The Silence.

She is back on our screens in the much-anticipated The Accident starring Sarah Lancashire, which started on Channel 4 on Thursday, but it has been a slog.

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It has nothing to do with her talent which no one dispute, it is down to the fact she is deaf. Growing up in a large supportive family Barr’s deafness was never an issue.

Genevieve Barr (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

It meant she had to work harder than most but her parents were determined their daughter’s disability was not a barrier.

And it wasn’t in her early life.

She attended a mainstream school, was very sporty representing England under 15s at rounders. She went on to study English and History at Edinburgh University where she presented Scotland at lacrosse,

GENEVIEVE BARR as Debbie in Channel 4's The Accident Photographer: Warren Orchard

After graduating and then became a teacher.

“Being born deaf, in Harrogate, in 1985 - I think was very hard on my parents and my family, but I hardly have any memories of it - it’s an echo in the background,” says Barr.

“It is a gift, I think, you are given as a child by wonderful parents - to be innocent, ignorant.

“And I kind of chose to wear that ignorance when I went to university, when I went onto becoming a teacher. Yes I am deaf, but it doesn’t define me.”

The Accident Picture shows: Debbie (GENEVIEVE BARR), Polly (SARAH LANCASHIRE) and Iwan (MARK LEWIS JONES). Photographer: Warren Orchard

But that changed significantly when Barr took the brave decision to leave her teaching job and follow her dream of being an actress,

“Suddenly, it was like I had it (being deaf) written in permanent black marker all over my body. I was surrounded by it. Being deaf was an inescapable fact,” she recalls.

“It meant that it was harder to get in the casting room. A lot harder. And it’s meant that nearly every conversation my agent has on my behalf, comes back to my being deaf.”

But this determined woman is no quitter.

GENEVIEVE BARR playing Debbie inThe Accident. Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Since playing young deaf girl Amelia, in BBC’s The Silence ten years ago Barr has been in BAFTA award winning The Fades, Call the Midwife, ITV’s Liar, BBC’s Press’, and a stint at the National Theatre.

“But it’s been a long road getting back to where I started,” she admits.

Barr is determined that all walks of life, but particularly television needs to be more inclusive.

“During my career, I’ve also been privileged to meet a huge number of other people with disabilities. And everyone is battling some sort of confidence demon in terms of how they feel about it. It’s taken me a bit of time to figure out how I feel. About it defining me. And figure out how to forge my path in the acting industry.

“I feel like I should be entitled to choose how I want to talk about and present my own disability. But life doesn’t always work like that.

“One of my favourite books from last year was Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’. She said - “My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.’ It’s taken me a while to realise that. And that now it’s time to write my own narrative. To put down what I want to see. A rich-mix of diversity and disability on our screens.”

Barr is now back on our screens in the a four-part Channel 4 drama The Accident by Jack Thorne.

A tragedy that befalls a small Welsh community, who are left reeling and searching out for someone or something to blame.

Barr, 33, plays the part of Debbie Kethin, whose husband is in charge of security on the site of the tragedy that takes place.

“There’s a special kind of madness about being an actor - and the places we get to visit - physically and emotionally. I love and breathe what I do. It’s time to find a way to write disability on our screens, in the same way that it is weaved into the tapestry of our society - a never-ending presence - and a part of everyday life.

“Jack Thorne does it exquisitely - and he understands the importance of this challenge. I admire him tremendously for his talent but also for the depth of his understanding. But we need more voices. We need to be the change we want to see. And that responsibility sits with us all.”

Thorne says he wrote Debbie with Barr in mind. He is a real fan.

“I think Genevieve is one of the greatest actors in the UK, I think she can do almost anything and that was a decision on my part that she needs to be in this and I’m going to write a part for her as I am desperately upset that she hasn’t become a superstar yet,” says Thorne. “I’m absolutely certain she will do but it might take a bit longer but hopefully this can be part of it. The last actor I was this certain of that to be true was Phoebe Waller-Bridge.”

Barr married in 2016 and gave birth to her first child last year.

“When I’m not being philosophical about the world, I like to be on my knees playing with my one year old son and husband. I went to set when my son was eight months old and had to stop breastfeeding overnight - my husband Alex stopped working and took on full time parenting. There were some interesting moments. But they came with me to Cardiff for three months so it was great.”

Barr has a few projects in the pipeline - both writing and acting.

“It’s looking like 2020 will be an exciting year,” she says. “I’m never going to give up. I’ve already made the sacrifice and choice to do what I love, and things are going to change - it’s just a painstaking process and wait.”

The Accident is on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4.