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.
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 on the ‘Tree House’ Facebook group 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!