Stage, Theatre & TV13th July 2015

The Winter's Tale with BSL Interpretation

Performed by the Taking Flight Theatre Company, the performance was designed with deaf people in mind

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

 When I was asked to attend Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff - I thought I would be watching the show there. However, I was soon made aware that it would be shown in the open air at Thompson Park. Envisioning what it might look like, my imagination rested on a man-made stage with actors and some scenery. The show, put on by the Taking Flight Theatre company was advertised as having BSL translation provided by Darryl Jackson, Sam Thorpe and Stephen Collins. My visualisation of the show, added these interpreters standing in their usual place for such events, at one end of the stage.

Whilst not a great theatre lover, this was an opportunity for the deaf community to get together and to enjoy a show that was being staged with them in mind. Keen to support Taking Flight for their efforts and to watch the show with different deaf groups, I also bought tickets for a second show at Parc Cwm Darran.

I arrived at Chapter to meet Deaf friends in the cafe and to have a quick snack before heading over to Thompson Park for the evening show. It was about 10 minutes walk away and probably less if we weren’t having a good hand-wag as we made our way over. It was drizzling throughout, so I wasn’t sure how much that might dampen the performance, but I need not have worried.

When we arrived at the park it was rather wet and initially it felt more like a ‘fete’ than a theatre performance. It was nothing like I expected. I was greeted by some of the Taking Flight staff who took money and were handing out programmes. Stephen Collins, who I met previously at a gala dinner event, explained how the play works and told us that they would be moving around. There were people there with their own folding chairs, picnic and umbrellas, obviously far better prepared than we were! Thankfully, the rain was dying out, but not enough to take down the umbrellas.

It was good to see some familiar faces and there was an interpreter booked for Deaf guests to communicate with the Taking Flight staff which was a good start. It was interesting to see individuals with different disabilities taking part in the play giving me an instant connection with the whole theatre group.

When the play started, there was confusion amongst us about whether the show would be in BSL or be interpreted for us. After about 5-10 minutes we started to understand the set up more and relaxed into the show. The type of language used was quite complex due to the Shakespearian language so some of the signs used by actors were very creative which can be abstract and it took us time to work out what was said. The introduction was too quick for most of us but it soon blended in. The play was the first I’ve ever seen where speech and signs were used at the same time but using two people. One speaker and another signing in the background or vice versa all on the stage together. I felt the play was a perfect example of what ‘interaction’ or ‘inclusive’ is really about. The BSL interpreters were built into the play.

 It was like having two languages spoken at the same time - you might think that’s confusing? How did they do that? They were exactly my thoughts before I arrived and I certainly did not expect an outdoor play, let alone a mixture of spoken and BSL language throughout the play. I must say, I really enjoyed it because I felt for the first time I was watching the play on a par with the hearing audience. I was able to focus on the story and the acting, rather than focusing on what was said via interpreter or captions by the side or underneath the stage. I missed nothing by way of the performance.

This would be my preferred choice for any future plays too. An interactive/inclusive play that gives us equal access BUT I don’t know about deaf people who do not use BSL as their first language. I asked the actors why they use BSL signs, but also lots of visual gestures. I assumed it was for those who do not use BSL. They confirmed that was the case but some of the signs were also newly created, targeting these audiences too. This explained why there were some signs I could not understand because it was not ‘BSL’ but an ‘art-form’ of BSL without following the language’s rules.

It was very different and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a BSL teacher this gave me further thought for those who express BSL in art in a different way and Taking Flight did just that very well. It is important for anyone learning BSL to recognise that BSL can be used as art, but to always remember this is not normal everyday language, exactly in the same way that no one speaks like Shakespeare. And much to my personal delight, they were using South Wales regional signs from time to time.

Here are some of the quotes from other Deaf people who came to watch.

Chris Coles: "The play was good and very different. They were translating Shakespeare in a unique way. It’s very visual and the interpreters were integrated as part of the performance. The play was really good, it was new to me to see deaf people and interpreters as part of the performance instead of usual where they’re at the side of the stage and you struggle to look at both – this way was brilliant!"

Heather Thomas: "It was good to see the different concept for interpreters being included. I think we need more of that instead of them being stood at the side of the stage and struggling to look at them and the actors. I always thought that Shakespeare’s plays were very dreary but they added a lot of humour and I really enjoyed it."

The play was so good and I enjoyed it so much despite the drizzle we stayed there for 2.5 hours and I was glad I had booked again the following weekend. This time I would take folding chair, a picnic, a bottle of Prosecco and a group of local BSL users. We travelled together in beautiful scenery to a venue about 30 minutes away. We all enjoyed it and here are their views.

Andrea Tafferelli: "I think it was fantastic, because the interpreters were actors too and they were involved in the performance. It felt more engaging and easier to follow. I hope over time there’ll be more performances like that."

Wendy Callaghan: I’ve just watched ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and it was really interesting and totally different; not like the usual setup where you watch an interpreter at the side and miss all the action. Here it was all integrated, they were part of the action and it was really effective – I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to see it again."

Sallie Holmes: "I thought it was very unique and not really what I was expecting. At first I thought it would be a little difficult to follow, but it wasn’t, it was easy to follow. It was so clever how they positioned themselves to make it easy to follow, I think it was really good. We need more performances like that. Usually, you have the interpreter at the side of the stage and then you have to struggle to keep one eye on them and the other on the actors. Today they mingled and moved among each other so you really got drawn in and it was much more engaging. I really enjoyed it."

Stephen Brattan-Wilson: "The whole thing was interesting, the venue, the integration of hearing and Deaf actors and the way that they translated Shakespeare’s old English into BSL was different. A little difficult to get used to but definitely interesting to see."

Murray Holmes: "I thought it was brilliant! It’s the first time in my life I’ve been to an outdoor theatre and there were Deaf actors too – I’ve not seen that before either. Usually, the theatre is not something that appeals to me, just something I think is ‘okay,’ but today was really amazing and I truly enjoyed it. It was very professional."

Jeff Brattan-Wilson: "I came here not really knowing what to expect, but I enjoyed it and it was nice to see the interpreters incorporated in the performance. I thought it was lovely to see the use of Welsh regional signs although some parts were a little difficult to follow as it was a bit too creative and abstract. However, overall I thought it was wonderful, they used the setting really well, I enjoyed it and had a lovely day out."

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Entertainment / Stage, Theatre & TV

13th July 2015