Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: a deliciously dark treat!

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I have very vivid memories as a child watching the original ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ film made in 1971. I watched it with my family on TV every Christmas and I loved it. Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka struck me as a fantastically charismatic but strangely dark, sinister character, while Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe seemed to have a great time on their adventure together. This film was so colourful, creative and weird. It was like a magical childhood fantasy.

Many years later, I was working for a company, which hired out two-way radios. I sometimes used to go to deliver the radios to film sets, where they were often used on big productions. I remember going to Pinewood’s 007 set, where they were doing the 2005 remake of the film called ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. This was a Tim Burton production and when I arrived on the set, I was amazed at how lavish, creative and surreal the set design was. The scale of it all was epic.

Charlie Choc_Pinewood set
The set was not computer generated like most of them are now, so everything had been created and made from scratch. It was amazing. I remember having to replace some of the radios, as they had fallen into the giant running chocolate waterfall on the set, and were covered in a gooey, chocolate-brown substance.

When I saw recently that there was to be a captioned performance of the West End musical production of ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, I jumped at the chance to see it. Perhaps I am still a big kid at heart, but I was really excited about it. I asked some of my friends on social media if they wanted to come along with my wife and I, so a group of us ended up going to see the matinee performance together last Wednesday.

Charlie Choc_group
This big West End production is being directed by the Hollywood Director Sam Mendes, who has directed two of my favourite films, ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Skyfall’, the James Bond film. I knew it would be a lavish stage production with very imaginative, visually creative sets.

One of my friends, Adhiti, has only recently had her new cochlear implant switched on after her operation, and she was very excited to see this musical. She had never seen a captioned performance before and was curious to find out what it would be like and what the music would sound like with her new cochlear implant.

We had really good seats in the Royal Circle, with excellent views of the two STAGETEXT caption units at both sides of the stage. It was really busy for a matinee performance as there were lots of school parties there, as well as lots of tourists.

Right from the start, the stage sets were awesome and on an epic scale. Visually, they were stunning, as they were very creative and inventive. It was just like a magical fantasy world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such lavish sets like it on the stage before. In the first half, we saw a lot of touching scenes of Charlie, with his parents and grandparents, who were desperately poor, but had immense pride, honesty and dignity. This was hugely contrasted with the scenes showing TV interviews with the four other Golden Ticket prizewinners, who were all either grotesque, fat, immensely spoilt and brattish or subversive.

These scenes were brilliant and very surreal. The stage was designed like you were looking inside a giant TV. One of my favourites was the interview with the hugely brattish girl Veruca Salt and her father, Mr Salt, the peanut millionaire. He reminded me of ‘Swiss Toni’, the spivvy fictional used car salesman character from the Fast Show.

Charlie Choc_Swiss Toni
Also, I loved the interview scene with the subversive ‘techno terrorist’ kid Mike Teavee and his ‘Stepford wife’ mother Mrs Teavee, who was dressed as a 1950s housewife, but who was drinking ‘mummy water’ to calm her shot nerves because of her son. It was brilliant.

The second half was set mainly inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but the stage sets changed constantly, mixing real sets with huge projected images, showing the different operational parts and engine rooms of the factory. The scene showing the garden made of edible sweets with the running chocolate fountain looked amazing. It was a very magical scene with beautiful flowers and brightly coloured sweets and lollipops.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
All of the scenes were visually stunning and true to my memories of the original film. In one scene there was a row of puppet squirrels in a production line testing out nuts and setting off a red alarm flashing a warning of “Bad nut!”. The scene became hilarious when Veruca Salt decided that she wanted one of the squirrels as her own and rushed to grab one, only to find her father and herself going down the bad nut chute.

Alex Jennings, who played Willy Wonka, managed to capture the mixture of crazy, colourful, enigmatic genius in this character with his dark, weird side, brilliantly. The way he showed no remorse or compassion towards the other four children dispatched rather bizarrely along the way, showed his really sinister side. But at the end of the day, this story is a morality tale, with Wonka ending up leaving his beloved chocolate factory to the most deserving and humble child, Charlie.

We all really enjoyed watching this show and found it amazing. Adhiti told me that she had really loved it and that she had had “the best day”. I saw on Twitter that there had been another captioned performance that evening, with a large group of deaf people enjoying themselves watching it.

It goes to show that deaf and hard of hearing people love watching captioned musicals. I only wish that there were more of them, as they are usually restricted to one or two shows per theatre out of the whole season and there are several shows that I still want to see which aren’t being captioned at all. The runs of these big productions are really long, so come on theatre groups! Why don’t you make your musicals more accessible, so more deaf and hard of hearing people can enjoy a great night out?

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An inclusive event for all deaf people at the Wallace Collection

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I was delighted to attend a fantastic event at the Wallace Collection last Saturday. It was to celebrate the opening of the new Great Gallery there, which has recently re-opened after a two-year refurbishment programme. It was a special evening access event for deaf and hard of hearing people, which was made fully inclusive to all via total communication support in the form of professional lipspeaking, BSL and SSE interpreters.

When I first heard about this event I was immediately interested in attending because it would be the first organised event for deaf people that I had seen that didn’t just cater for one section of the deaf and hard of hearing community in terms of the communication support provided. This event was for the full spectrum of the deaf community.

Wallace Collection blog_lipspeakersI was amazed to see so many people there, and such a diversity of people, from cochlear implant users like myself, to deaf BSL users, deafened and hard of hearing people. I met up with several of my deaf friends and people I know from the various deaf groups and charities I am involved with. This was the first time I had seen them all together at the same venue. I also met some new people that evening, and there were people from all age groups.

The Great Gallery is the “jewel in the crown” of the Wallace Collection and runs the entire length of the city block in Central London. As I stood there and gazed around me, I was struck by how beautiful it is. It is truly stunning and it takes your breath away. With its red silk walls covered in Old Master paintings in opulent gold frames, I felt like I was standing inside one of the Royal Palaces.

Lucy Davies, the curator at the Wallace Collection, started out by describing the refurbishment programme of the Great Gallery, which was a huge project lasting two years, and how excited they were to re-open it recently. It was originally built by the founder of the Wallace Collection, Sir Richard Wallace, in 1870. It was intended as a picture gallery in Hertford House to amaze visitors by showing off his best paintings and furniture.

Wallace Collection_great gallery
During the recent refurbishment programme, they rebuilt the ceiling and introduced natural lighting through it, which is how it was originally intended to be. This gallery is special and different from other museums as it displays masterpieces from all over Europe in one space, and it is not divided into many national schools. Most of the paintings in the gallery are European paintings dating back to the 17th Century, which the Marquesses of Hertford and Richard Wallace collected in the 19th Century.

After Lucy’s talk, there was a series of talks to the group by four different deaf or hard of hearing lecturers and art experts, with each person talking about one of their favourite paintings or artefacts in the Great Gallery, with fascinating stories about the background of each one and its connection with the Hertford and Wallace families.

One of my favourite talks was a BSL talk by John Wilson, about a large painting of King George IV done in 1822 by the artist Thomas Lawrence in the Great Gallery. The artist’s life and career were quite closely connected to the subject, and the original owner of this painting, the third Marquess of Hertford, was a former ambassador to Berlin and Vienna and also Master of the Horse to George IV.

At the time of the painting King George IV was 61 years old and he weighed 21½ stones. He is wearing a chestnut wig in the portrait and he liked to be painted by Thomas Lawrence as he painted him in a very flattering light.

Wallace Collection blog_George IVWith two failed marriages behind him before he became king, Prince George began a relationship with Lady Hertford, who later became his mistress when she was a very large 50-year old woman, and he was 45 years old. He used to visit her every afternoon at Hertford House (the present Wallace Collection museum).

In 1820 the Prince Regent became King George IV and he replaced Lady Hertford with Lady Conyngham, an obese 52-year old woman. The painting of King George was given to Lady Conyngham and it was later acquired by Sir Richard Wallace to be displayed in Hertford House.

I was fascinated to learn that one of Thomas Lawrence’s pupils and assistants, Samuel Lane, was profoundly deaf and he lived with Lawrence in his house in Soho. When Lawrence died he left all his paintings to Lane, who finished off many of them. Sadly, Lane never achieved the recognition as a great portrait painter that Lawrence achieved in his lifetime.

The other talk, which I particularly enjoyed, was Edward Richard’s talk in BSL. I can hear much better now that I have my cochlear implant, but since I became deafened four years ago, I have become much more visual. Edward signed beautifully in a very visual, descriptive way, but since I am not fluent at all, it really helped me to watch Edward signing and listen to his BSL interpreter too. This added a whole new dimension for me.

Edward talked about two of the gilded bronze sculptures on the table at the back of the Great Gallery. They were sculpted by Pietro Tacca and his son Ferdinando in Florence in c.1640-50 and were commissioned by the Grand Duke Cosimo II de’Medici, who was from a very wealthy Italian dynasty.

Wallace Collection_Hercules

The models in the Wallace Collection were based on two classical Greek myths about Hercules, the Greek god. One of them shows Hercules battling with a centaur (a half man, half horse creature), who had angered him by being engaged to his lover, Deianeira, who later became his second wife and then killed him. The other one shows Hercules in a struggle with the river god Achelous, another rival for the hand of his beloved Deianeira.

Ferdinando Tacca, Pietro’s son, was also an engineer, architect and stage designer in Florence. Edward described in a very visual way how we can see the influence of theatrical design in the sculptures in the very dramatic facial features and depiction of Hercules wrestling the centaur to the ground and the contortions of the centaur’s body.

Both sculptures were bought by the 3rd Marquess of Hertford and first recorded in Dorchester House (which later became the Dorchester Hotel) in 1842.

After the talks, the Wallace Collection provided free glasses of wine for us all in the courtyard restaurant where we all had a good chat in a beautiful location. It was great to see such a diversity of deaf and hard of hearing people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying themselves.

I would like to thank Edwina, Lucy and the rest of the Wallace Collection staff for organising such a great accessible event. I hope there will be more of these events, which bring deaf people together, are informative and interesting, as well as being really good fun. Well done to the Wallace Collection!

With thanks to Michael Theobald too for providing me with the photos.

Snowbility in Hemel Hempstead: No Limits!

Last weekend I went skiing for the first time since I went on a school skiing trip in 1988. I never thought I’d be going skiing at the age of forty-three, especially since I’m a bit overweight and my balance isn’t great. But anyway, the reason I went was that it was a free deaf snowsports coaching event, organised by the NDCS (National Deaf Childrens Society) and an accessible deaf snowsports company called Snowbility http://snowbility.co.uk

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We posted about it on social media and asked if anyone wanted to go along to it. I thought it looked like fun so I said that I wanted to go. Eloise took on the responsibility of organising it and she did a great job bringing together a group of us to go there and enjoying the day together.

I was really excited about it beforehand. I was a bit worried though, too, as I had visions of me losing my balance, falling over or crashing straight into the ski instructor. I wondered if I could remember how to ski and I worried about completely embarrassing myself in front of the group.

On the day I didn’t have anything to worry about. The event was held at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead http://www.thesnowcentre.com, which has slopes made out of real snow, so it feels really natural. We were all divided into different groups, according to whether you were deaf or hearing, and wanted to be taught skiing or snowboarding.

Snow Centre_slopes
When it was time to get ready and join my group, I went downstairs to the changing area and noticed lots of deaf children with their parents there. It seemed like a great sociable event for families and the volunteers and staff from the NDCS looked very organised as they were helping the various children and adult groups get ready for their coaching sessions. I had a chat to a couple of people from the NDCS and I was really impressed with their kind, helpful attitude with the children and their parents. I thought they worked incredibly hard that day. They were amazing.

Deaf skiing_Richard scarf
Our ski instructor introduced himself to us. He is called Arran, and is a young deaf BSL user. He taught us in BSL and although I am not fluent in BSL, I found it quite easy because he was very visual and patient when he was showing us what to do. He is a really inspiring person because I found out that he learned to ski with a hearing ski instructor while he was on holiday with his parents in France when he was a child and he picked it up really quickly. He then followed his dream to train to become a fully qualified ski instructor at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, where he lives. He works for the company Snowbility, which provides accessible skiing and snowboarding coaching for deaf people and people with other disabilities at the Snow Centre. You can find out more about Arran’s story here in this short video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNyEBS4tRXE

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As Arran showed us the basic techniques of side-stepping and snow-ploughing, I found that it all came back to me from all those years ago. After a bit of practice with the group, I decided to go off on my own and attempt to go up to the top of the slope on the ski lift. The first time I tried to ski back down, I fell right over and onto my backside. It hurt a bit, but I picked myself up and carried on. As I practised a bit more, my confidence improved and I started to really enjoy it with the instructor’s help and guidance.

Deaf ski blog_RT skiing
He was really enthusiastic and encouraging, showing all us patiently how to ski and improve our techniques in such a visual, expressive way. Eloise had never skied before, but I watched her grow in confidence and really improve in the short coaching session we had there. She really seemed to be picking it up quickly and enjoying it, as did the others.

After the session, we went to the Snow Centre café and joined lots of other deaf families and adults having a meal and talking about their skiing and snowboarding sessions. We stayed there for a couple of hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

This was a really great event, which was well-organised and great fun for lots of deaf people. I found out from the Snow Centre that over one hundred people had registered for the free taster sessions that day, which is brilliant. It just shows that there are no limits to what you can do if you put your mind to it. Who knows? Maybe I shall be representing Team GB in the downhill event at the next Winter Olympics? Somehow I don’t think so!

My new musical experience at the amazing ‘Book of Mormon’

Recently, I went to watch the matinée performance of the smash-hit musical ‘The Book of Mormon’ with my wife Joanna in the West End. I had wanted to see it for quite a while now, so as soon as I saw that there was going to be a performance captioned by STAGETEXT I booked our tickets straightaway. This musical has won 9 Tony awards in the US since it opened there in 2011, and it has been showing in London since last year.

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It was also the first musical that I would watch since having my new cochlear implant switched on, so I was really looking forward to being able to hear the music and I wondered what it would sound like with a hearing loop, which I had not really used before. I didn’t go to musicals before I had my implant as I couldn’t hear the music or make out the lyrics when I wore a hearing aid.

We arrived at the Prince of Wales theatre where it was showing and saw that it was packed, with people queuing for tickets outside in the street, even for a Wednesday matinée. We had seats in the circle with a perfect view of the caption unit in front of us, looking down towards the stage.

I thought the stage set was amazing. It was like a psychedelic vision of heaven complete with fluffy purple clouds and sunbeams shining through them, edged by multi-coloured stained glass windows and white pillars, like you would find in a chapel. It was spectacular.

Book of Mormom stage set

The storyline is about two mismatched young Mormon boys, the clean-cut Elder Price and the geeky Elder Cunningham who, after just completing their missionary training in Salt Lake City, get dispatched to northern Uganda for two years to try and convert the local people to Mormonism. The two Mormon boys are very fresh-faced, naive and eager to baptise the locals and convert them, but when they arrive they are shocked at what they find.

The village they have been assigned to is war-ravaged and desolate. 80% of the people there have AIDs and the villagers are under the corrupt and evil control of the local gun-toting warlord, who thinks nothing of shooting people in the face and forcing the young girls to undergo female circumcision. How on earth would they be able to convert these people to Mormonism, when they were worn down by years of oppression, starvation, violence and corruption?

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This was a far-cry from the idyllic image of Africa they had expected, with one of them saying that “Africa is not like the ‘Lion King’, is it?” As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that they are not going to convert the locals by simply preaching to them from the Book of Mormon, so the ingenious Elder Cunningham, who is known for being creative with the truth, spins them a yarn about Jesus coming down in the ‘Star Ship Enterprise’ to save them, inventing all sorts of tales to twist the truth into what the locals want to hear to appeal to them, and in the process, he ends up converting them all to Mormons and baptizing them.

Book of Mormon locals 3

I found the storyline hilarious, although though the dialogue is pretty shocking. It is blasphemous, crude with lots of swearing, but it is all done in such a way that somehow you can’t take it at all seriously. I think this is a very clever trick done by the creators. It is a satire on organised religion and squeaky-clean American culture, contrasted with the appalling situation of the oppressed and poverty-stricken people in Uganda, but because it is all shown in such a comical way, you can’t help but laugh at it all.

The acting and singing was absolutely fantastic, and I was amazed that I could hear the lyrics so clearly through the hearing loop combined with my new cochlear implant. It was great for me to be able to go the theatre and hear music again after so many years, which, combined with reading the captions, was a totally new experience for me. I was still singing the words of the songs in my head as I came out of the theatre and went home.

I particularly loved the character of the weird geeky Mormon Elder Cunningham, played by the actor A.J. Holmes. When he performed the song ‘Man Up’ after being deserted by his companion and he was expected to convert the distrusting natives on his own, I was in fits of laughter. It was brilliant.

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I also thought that the actress Alexia Khadime who played the Ugandan girl Nabulungi was fantastic too. She was sweet and innocent with a beautiful voice. In the scene where she sang about her dream of ‘getting the bus to paradise to what she called Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City), she sang it with such amazing passion and conviction, she blew the audience away. The lyrics of the song really made me laugh, such as “I bet the warlords there are really friendly, they help you across the street. There’s a Red Cross on every corner, with all the flour you can eat”. It was pure comedy gold.

Overall it was very entertaining, cheesy and camp. I just didn’t want it to end. The acting and dialogue was wacky and outrageous, just what you would expect from the creators of ‘South Park’, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shockable though, but I loved it. I would love STAGETEXT to put on another captioned performance of this, because I cannot wait to see it again!

Book of Mormon_RT T-shirt

Churchill’s Chartwell and Rawson’s Legacy

As a late deafened adult, losing my hearing quite suddenly at the age of thirty-nine, I hadn’t learned how to lipread until then as there was no need. It was not something that had ever even crossed my mind.

It took me a long time to accept that I was deaf and even longer to begin to adapt to my new life as a deafened adult. Things that I had always taken for granted, like being able to follow and join in conversations in places like work, home, in the pub and noisy restaurants, became increasingly difficult and frustrating for me. As my hearing deteriorated I struggled to communicate and follow even basic conversations with my wife, family and friends.

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I started to go to lipreading classes about four years ago, shortly after my hearing suddenly dropped a lot. I enjoyed meeting other people at the classes, although I didn’t have much in common with them, as most of them were a lot older than me, in their sixties and seventies. I also found lipreading very tiring, as I struggled so hard to follow what people were saying. Over time, I gradually became better at it, although until I had my cochlear implant recently, I still struggled to communicate and understand everyday conversations.

Then just over a year ago, I heard about the NADP Rawson Bequest Events Programme, which organises regular lipspeaking events for deaf and hard of hearing people with a good understanding and knowledge of English, like myself. You do not have to be a member of the NADP to join an outing.

This programme has been donated to the NADP via a legacy bequest from the late Dr Annette Rawson. She qualified as a doctor and was one of the first female doctors to work at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Then suddenly, at the age of thirty-two, she became profoundly deaf as a result of a rare debilitating autoimmune disease. She had to give up being a doctor as a result of her hearing loss and medical condition, which she struggled with for the rest of her life.

Chartwell_Lynne and Sara

Through her experience of becoming deafened as an adult Dr Rawson learned how important it was to have good lipspeaking support made available to deaf people with a good understanding of English. She wanted the arts and places of cultural or historical significance to be made more accessible to deaf people. When I heard about the Rawson Bequest Programme I immediately felt a personal affinity to Dr Rawson because she had a similar medical condition to my own, which caused my hearing loss.

I went on my first NADP lipspeaking event at Bletchley Park last year and I was immediately amazed at how well I could follow the talk with the support of the professional lipspeakers Sara Scanlon and Lynne Dubin. It really helped me that Sara used visual cues and signing as well as lipspeaking to help me follow what the guide was saying.

Last weekend I went on another lipspeaking event through the NADP Rawson Bequest Programme – a tour of Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill, in Kent. This estate is owned by the National Trust and although there was no official guided tour of the House, Sara and Lynne did an excellent job in providing the lipspeaking support throughout the tour of the House. Then one of the official guides also gave us a short talk afterwards with lipspeaking support about Winston Churchill’s painting in his art studio in the grounds.

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Chartwell is a very imposing country manor house with beautiful gardens and a huge estate set in the rolling hills of the Kent countryside, only about an hour’s drive from London. It was bought by Winston Churchill as his family home, but since his wife’s death in the 1970s, it has been bequeathed to the nation through the National Trust and a museum has been set up there.

I spent a brilliant day there with my wife and Jack Russell terrier Jake. I gained an amazing insight into the personal life of Winston Churchill and I learned a lot about some very important historical events in modern British and world history. He was friends with famous politicians, celebrities, artists and members of the aristocracy and Royal Family, many of whom visited him and regularly attended parties at Chartwell in the 1920s and 1930s, where he loved to entertain them.

Chartwell_Richard

Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister twice. He not only changed the course of world history for us all by playing a major role in helping us to win World War Two, but he was also a prolific painter and writer. He created over 500 paintings in his lifetime, and in the museum in the main house I saw the actual gold medal and manuscript of the original Nobel Prize for Literature for 1953, which was awarded to Winston Churchill for his life’s works, as he wrote forty-two books in seventy-three volumes during his lifetime.

His mother was American and because of this, Winston invented the idea of the “special relationship” between Britain and America, which we still have today. He was an MP for sixty-two years, being a great global statesman and diplomat. He was known for his rousing speeches, many of which he wrote in his study at Chartwell. He cultivated friendships with several American presidents, including President Roosevelt and John F.Kennedy.

Chartwell

His finest hour was when he served as Prime Minister during the Second World War. He was driven by his determination, sense of destiny and ‘British Bulldog’ spirit to win the war and always do what is right. His famous rousing World War II speeches inspired millions to fight for the cause for the sake of honour and duty. In one of his speeches in 1941 he said “Never give in – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”.

Churchill painted throughout his life to provide him with relaxation from his great trials and tribulations. He painted his last painting of Marrakech, a place he loved, at the age of eighty-five. Although he was an amateur painter, several famous artists mentored him, including Walter Sickert and John Lavery. A few of his paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy and one of them even won first prize.

Chartwell_Churchill painting

When Churchill died in 1965, he left the world a completely changed place and he also transformed the course of world history. I found this tour of Chartwell absolutely fascinating as I had no idea about the extent of his life’s works as an artist and writer, as well as being a great statesman and one of the most iconic political figures of the 20th Century.

I hope to go on more of these Rawson Bequest events in the future. I have thoroughly enjoyed them and find them really educational and insightful. Lynne and Sara have also provided excellent lipspeaking and communication support to the groups. I would really like to thank them for making it so accessible to us.

SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, KG, DL, OM, CH, PC, MP (1874) AND CLEMENTINE OGILVY HOZIER, LADY CHURCHILL (1885-1977) IN THE DINING ROOM AT CHARTWELL, 1932, by Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) at Chartwell, Kent

 

Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

I was recently reminded what a powerful tool social media is. A short while ago I saw that there was going to be a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios, as part of their ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ season produced by Jamie Lloyd. I immediately checked on STAGETEXT’s website to see if there was going to be a captioned performance, but was disappointed to see that it was not listed.

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So I tweeted Jamie Lloyd, the Trafalgar Studios and STAGETEXT directly using hashtags about ♯accessibility and ♯inclusion to ask if there was going to be a captioned performance and waited for their response. Imagine my surprise when Jamie Lloyd himself tweeted me back saying that all their productions in the season would definitely be captioned. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy! I immediately let my deaf friends know and several of them told me they wanted to come along too.

The next day I rushed down to the Box Office and bought tickets for my wife and a few of my deaf friends. I was really excited and tweeted the photo of me with the tickets at the Box Office.  I was really excited about it.

Richard III tweet

We finally went to see it together last Monday night. Since it was a cold, wet and miserable Bank Holiday Monday, I was glad to leave the house in the early evening to meet up with my friends for a Mexican meal in town before heading off to the theatre.

When we arrived there, it was completely full. Despite the fact that it was a very rainy Monday evening, it looked like every ticket had been sold. Tickets are only £15 for everyone on Monday nights, which Jamie Lloyd has done to make his productions accessible to everyone, particularly young people, who may not have ever seen Shakespeare before. I think this is an excellent idea.

When we sat down, I noticed a few people around us who I knew, so we all said hello. It was great to see some friendly faces and have a chat before the start. Our seats were not far from the stage with a great view of the STAGETEXT caption unit above the stage. There were rows of people sitting on the other side just behind the stage too. I love the cosy, informal atmosphere of the Trafalgar Studios and the young audience, which is why it is my favourite theatre in London.

It was immediately obvious that this was going to be a very different, modern take on Richard III. The stage set was designed like a late 1970s office, complete with old-fashioned typewriters, phones, a fish tank, TV sets and fax machines. Apparently this was inspired by the famous opening line of the play spoken by Richard “Now is the winter of our discontent”, which conjured up images of the winter of discontent in Britain in 1979, which saw mass strikes, three-day weeks and general public unrest.

Richard III_office

Since I’ve only recently had my cochlear implant switched on and have never tried to use a hearing loop since then, I thought I’d try it out to see if it would work, so I picked one up in the foyer beforehand. I was amazed to find that I didn’t even need to use the loop because I could hear the actors’ voices on stage and could follow what they were saying clearly. It was a totally new experience for me being able to hear the dialogue being spoken and follow the captions at the same time.

This performance was very gory, violent and sadistic. Watching the numerous murder scenes was often uncomfortable, but necessary, to understand the evil nature of the hunch-backed main character, Richard, and his relentless determination to keep torturing and murdering people, including his own wife and family, in order to achieve the ultimate prize of being King of England. It was based on the real-life King Richard III, who allegedly brutally murdered the two boy princes in the Tower of London.

Richard III - Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil - Photo Marc Brenner.jpg

Martin Freeman, who played Richard, was excellent. He limped around the stage like an evil, power-crazed tyrant. He reminded me of a modern-day dictator such as Stalin, Franco or Hitler. In one murder scene where he was killing his wife Anne by strangling her in cold blood with a phone cord across the desk, I looked at my wife, who was wincing and watching the scene with her hand covering her face. There really were some disturbing and gruesome scenes, but Martin Freeman managed to convey the psychopathic side of Richard’s character with his self-satisfied wit really well.

Gina McKee, who plays Queen Elizabeth, also stood out for me as delivering a great performance. She played the mother of the two young princes killed in the Tower. In one particularly harrowing scene, Richard had her taped to a chair while she was desperately pleading with him not to seduce her only surviving daughter. It is a very moving and disturbing scene.

Richard III_Gina McKee

Apart from the great acting, I thought that the lighting and special effects also worked really well and added to the drama. In one gruesome murder scene the creaky lift doors to the sides of the stage kept opening and closing at the crucial moment, adding to the disturbing sense of shock. Lights were also turned on and off and flickered around the stage throughout the play.

I thought it was a great performance and I’m so pleased that Martin Freeman decided to stay in London that night to play the part of Richard III instead of going to the Emmy award ceremony in the States to collect his award. We all had a great night and I can’t wait to go to the next captioned production at the Trafalgar. A big thanks to Jamie Lloyd and STAGETEXT! It just goes to show that if you don’t ask for things, you don’t get!

Rediscovering sound – like meeting up with an old friend

Originally posted on Richard Turner:

Richard CI_beer

After six weeks of anxiously waiting after my cochlear implant operation and hoping so much that it was going to work, I finally had my switch-on last week.

So much has happened in those last six weeks that I don’t really know where to begin to tell you. I thought it would be very difficult and very isolating trying to adjust to living in a world of total silence and tinnitus again. I’m not going to lie to you. It has not been easy and I have got through watching the first three subtitled series of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD followed by the complete series of ‘House of Cards’ while recovering at home. I can highly recommend both of them, by the way. But it wasn’t half as scary or as isolating as when I first lost my hearing four years ago.

The difference this time is that I…

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