Last night I went to see a performance of ‘The Hothouse’ at the Trafalgar Studios in London with my wife Joanna, which had live captioning by STAGETEXT.
I found out that this play was going to be on a while ago, and I really wanted to see it. However, I saw that there wasn’t going to be a captioned performance of it, so I was really disappointed. I contacted STAGETEXT and told them, and they gave me the contact details of Laura, the Deputy Theatre Manager of the Trafalgar Studios. I contacted her to ask if they could put on a captioned performance. I told her how much I had really enjoyed seeing ‘Macbeth’ there a few months earlier by the same director Jamie Lloyd. To my great delight, she e-mailed me back recently to tell me that there would now be a captioned performance by STAGETEXT, so I booked two tickets straightaway.
I think that if you really want to see a particular play but you feel you can’t because you feel it’s not accessible to you, it’s definitely worth contacting the theatre directly and telling them. It’s only through letting them know that you want to see it that theatres around the country will take notice and make more of their performances accessible to other deaf/deafened and hard of hearing people like me.
Before the performance, Joanna and I met Laura from Trafalgar Studios and had a chat at the bar. She was really friendly and welcoming. I thanked her for putting on the captioned performance and I told her that I really loved the Trafalgar Studios as it is cosy and intimate and lends itself to captioned performances brilliantly. She explained that they really wanted to make their theatres accessible to all, regardless of peoples’ hearing loss, visual impairment or other disabilities. She said that they want people to tell them if they have access problems so they can make their performances more accessible. She also said that they have ‘access champions’ to help promote greater accessibility and inclusion within all their theatres, which I thought was great.
Once inside the theatre, it was packed. We had really good seats in the middle and I could see the captioning unit clearly, which was above the stage.
The play was written by Harold Pinter in the 1950s and is set in an unnamed state institution, referred to as a ‘rest home’, which is really a psychiatric unit. The patients have numbers instead of names and they are routinely abused and tortured by electronic shock treatments in appalling acts of cruelty and brutality. Despite this, the play is a very zany black comedy with constant moments of hilarity, and acting which reminded me of Monty Python or John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. The witty dialogue was so quick that at first I found it hard to keep up with the captioning, but I soon got used to it.
We met Alex, the captioner, during the interval and I told her that it must have been really difficult for her to keep up with the unbelievably quick dialogue, which was like a machine gun, but she was doing an amazing job.
I thought the actors were brilliant, particularly since they were playing such neurotic, unhinged characters. Simon Russell Beale who played the main character Roote, the deranged ex-Colonel and tyrant who ran the institution, was superb. He seemed to become more psychotic and deluded as the story unfolded, while in contrast John Simm, who played his sidekick Gibbs, appeared cold, creepy and sinister.
The supporting actors were equally brilliant. John Heffernan, who played the role of the cheeky, taunting subordinate Lush in his purple suit, was absolutely hilarious and reminded me of a sly Kenneth Williams. I couldn’t stop laughing in the scene where he was madly stuffing half a Christmas cake into his mouth after drinking copious amounts of whisky with Roote. This was one of the best scenes in the play.
Behind all this mad farcical black humour, Pinter was trying to show that state-sanctioned torture and cruelty are inherently wrong and he was highlighting the dangers of uncontrolled authority, which is bound to come to a bitter end. He explained in an interview in 1982 that it was fantasy when he wrote it, but that it had become far more relevant as reality had overtaken it. It therefore has a deeply moral message.
The first captioned performance I saw since I lost my hearing was Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios earlier this year. I was blown away by that experience. This is what encouraged me to go back to the theatre, as before, I wouldn’t have considered it as I thought it was no longer accessible to me. It is really great to go out and see these amazing plays. Trafalgar Studios is my favourite place to see plays in London. It is really unique as it is so intimate that you actually feel part of the action. It reminds me of another one of my passions, watching football, at an old smaller stadium such as West Ham’s Upton Park or Fulham’s Cottage, where you feel part of the game and the atmosphere is electric as you are so close to the players. This is totally different to the atmosphere in new big state-of-the art stadiums, where you feel like you are in a church.
I would recommend anyone to go and see a play at the brilliant Trafalgar Studios. I’m already looking forward to the next accessible play!