My take on the Curious Incident play

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Last Saturday I finally got to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time play in the West End. I say ‘finally’ because I have wanted to see it ever since I first read Mark Haddon’s book a few years ago and loved it. I was actually due to see the play a while ago in the West End but it was shortly after the roof collapsed in the theatre, so I’ve waited until now to see a captioned performance of it by STAGETEXT at a different theatre, the Gielgud Theatre.

Because the book is written in the first person from the point of view of Christopher, the main character, I did wonder how they would be able to convey on-stage the unique way he sees the world, and whether it would work or not. We are led to believe that Christopher has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, so because he is telling us the story, we see things through his eyes and we are introduced to his magical, brilliant, but altogether confused, mind.

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Christopher is a fifteen-year-old boy, who is brilliant at maths and needs everything to be logical and organised to be able to be calm and focused. When they’re not, which is quite often the case, he becomes overwhelmed and terrified, unable to function in a noisy, chaotic world, which is full of things and strange behaviour by other people, which he can’t make sense of.

The way that this was done on-stage was actually very clever. Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher from his special needs school, narrated his story from the book that he had written, at the same time as the actual acting of his story was taking place. It worked well and it was really convincing.

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Apart from being a good story, which was very well acted, the other brilliant thing about this production was the stage set. My wife, friend and I had excellent seats in the Dress Circle, facing right onto the stage, with the two STAGETEXT caption units perfectly placed at eye level to either side of us, so I could follow the dialogue really well.

The stage was designed like a giant geometric grid. At various points throughout the action, it would light up with bright colours, flash lots of numbers up or project different sets such as Paddington Station or London streets. Watching the stage sets change, sometimes with walls closing in, opening up or escalators suddenly appearing in the tube station, was like walking into a magical, fantasy world as Christopher’s almost psychedelic imagination is unleashed upon us.

I thought the actor, who played Christopher, Kaffe Keating, was very convincing. I read an article in the programme afterwards by the author of the original book, Mark Haddon, which I thought was really insightful. He talked about how Christopher describes himself as someone who has ‘Behavioural Problems’ because that is the term medical professionals have used to describe him. He says that labels like that tell us very little about the person who has been labeled and a lot about the people doing the labeling. In other words, often well-intentioned people are searching for the correct PC term to use to label a disabled person, instead of treating that person like an individual and trying to find out what they are like by just talking to them and getting to know them.

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Disabled people are all different and unique, just like any other group in society, so if someone asks whether Christopher is a correct representation of someone with autism, we shouldn’t really be asking that question. After all, he says, we wouldn’t ask if a character, who is a cellist, lesbian or archbishop, for example, are representative of those types of people, so why should we assume that people with a certain disability are representative of all people with that disability either?

The irony is that Christopher is labelled as having ‘Behavioural Problems’ when the adults around him, such as his father and mother, are dysfunctional and cause Christopher a lot of pain and suffering with their own behaviour. His father, for instance, played brilliantly by Nicholas Tennant, is unable to cope with Christopher or communicate well with him, so he goes from lying about his mother leaving him to try and save his feelings to lashing out at him from time to time through sheer frustration. Similarly, his mother left him to run off with the neighbour to London, partly because she is unable to cope with Christopher and deal with her emotions.

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Christopher can talk to people who aren’t close to him, though, such as his teacher Siobhan, as well as his kindly old neighbour Mrs Alexander. He also seems to have a special bond with animals, which he doesn’t have with people as he lacks empathy for them and can only see things in a simple, logical way. He obviously loved his neighbour’s dog Wellington, who we see has been brutally murdered at the beginning of the play. He also loves his pet rat Toby, who he insists on taking with him on his terrifying trip to London to try and find his mother.

I don’t want to give any more of the plot away for anyone who still hasn’t read the book or seen the play. Needless to say I thought this production was brilliant. It was very well acted and watching it was a real delight because the visuals, special effects and stage set were just incredible. It was definitely worth the wait. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend it!

Curious Incident blog Christopher

 

February’s highlights: Access to the arts in action

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I’ve been to see some great plays and art exhibitions this month, which have proved to me once again how important great access to theatre and the arts is to deaf and disabled people.

At the beginning of February I saw a performance of Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Homecoming, which was captioned by STAGETEXT at the Trafalgar Studios in London. This is a Harold Pinter play and while I found the actual play pretty weird and disturbing (which I think it’s meant to be as it’s supposed to be shocking and thought-provoking), the access provided by the captioning was excellent.

We were seated close to the action on stage and I could read the captions really clearly as the caption unit was placed directly above the stage. I didn’t have to keep moving my head from side to side or up and down like watching tennis at Wimbledon to read the text and follow the action at the same time.

This is one of my favourite places to watch a play. The tickets are only £15 each on a Monday night, so it makes it accessible and inclusive to all. The audience is also quite diverse, with young and older people alike all sitting together in a cosy, informal atmosphere. There’s no elitism about the place. It was packed and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

It was a shame that the hearing loop didn’t work, even after I swapped it for another one during the interval. But it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the performance in any way as I could still hear most of it and I could read the captions very well from where I was sitting.

My experience of watching Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the National Theatre about a week later was completely different, though. This was also captioned by STAGETEXT. When I first took my seat, I saw that there was a very elaborate stage set, designed like a large modern office, complete with desks, chairs and computers.

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Two caption units were placed to the far left and right of the stage, instead of above the stage. At first, I wondered why they had been put there because it made it quite difficult to follow the captions and the action on stage at the same time when I had to keep moving my head from the caption units at the sides to the stage where the actors were.

It all became clear after a while though when suddenly, the whole set, complete with upside down chairs and tables was lifted and suspended in the air above the stage. The chairs and tables, which were hanging from the ceiling, had been transformed into a forest and they were now meant to be trees. The rest of the action took place in this atmospheric, misty half office/forest setting.

The effect it gave was really creative and different. I’d never seen office furniture transformed into a forest before, but it seemed to work somehow. From an access point of view though, it wasn’t ideal as although I could see how it would be impossible to have put the caption units above the stage with such an elaborate set, it meant that anyone relying on the captions would either have to follow the captions or watch the action on-stage, as it was impossible to do both at the same time.

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Thankfully, the hearing loop was crystal clear, so I still managed to follow the dialogue and enjoy the play. The acting was brilliant, the plot really funny and the set design amazing. I also think that putting it in such a modern setting with the actors dressed in modern clothes made Shakespeare seem much more accessible and relevant to today’s audiences.

It made me wonder, though, whether theatre set designers should incorporate decisions about access right from the start when they are planning their sets. Later, I asked STAGETEXT about this and they told me that it can be difficult to find the perfect placement for the caption units across a range of different venues and complex sets. They said that their Theatre Programme Manager works directly with venues to ensure that the units are as close to the action as possible. But with theatres that have their own captioning equipment, they have less of a say where the units are positioned than they do if they are captioning it themselves.

Also, with some of the West End shows, STAGETEXT has to mark out an allocation of caption user seats as soon as the dates go on sale and this is often before there is even a set design in place for the production. This explains why sometimes the caption units are not in the ideal position for the caption users. I have to say though, that the majority of times I’ve seen a captioned performance, the experience has been excellent and fully accessible to me.

The access was really good at the exhibition I went to with my wife yesterday at the National Gallery too: http://bit.ly/1P9yDQw. It was a major exhibition of the early 19th Century French artist Delacroix’s paintings, whose work inspired the younger Impressionists and modern artists who came after him.

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I asked for a hearing loop for the recorded audio guide of the exhibition. The staff there were really helpful and made sure that the loop worked before I went into the exhibition. It was crystal clear and easy to use.

I didn’t really know much about Delacroix before or how important an artist and influence he was. The exhibition describes him as ‘The Father of Modern Art’ with a quote from Cézanne saying “We all paint in Delacroix’s language”. In the exhibition we saw original paintings by Delacroix alongside others by such famous artists as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet and Cézanne, who had all been inspired by his works.

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What I love about these Delacroix paintings is that they are very colourful and it’s obvious that he painted them with a lot of passion and energy. He was one of the first artists to unleash his imagination and express on canvas the powerful emotions and ferocious intensity that were building up inside him like a volcano, whether it was in a still life painting, landscape, portrait, historical battle or religious scene.

I really loved his North African paintings in the exhibition, which showed scenes of rich luxuriant landscapes and architecture, bright colours, brilliant sunlight and exotic animals such as lions and tigers. These were all new and fascinating to a man such as him coming from Paris. The Delacroix exhibition is on until 22nd May so if you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend you go and check it out!

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My thoughts on Tom Shakespeare’s talk: “Can disabled people fly high?”

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We seem to live in a society with very polarised attitudes towards disabled people. On the one hand, disabled people are often told that they are “brave” or “inspirational”, even when they are just doing normal, everyday things non-disabled people take for granted. On the other hand, they are being stigmatised and labelled “scroungers” by a government increasingly determined to slash the welfare bill by driving through cuts to disability benefits and scrapping and limiting funds designed to enable disabled people to work, study and lead independent lives.

I recently went to a fascinating talk by Tom Shakespeare, the academic, disability rights campaigner and sociologist, who explored these themes about social attitudes towards disability and why some disabled people become high achievers, but so many others don’t.

When I first read the title of his talk “Can disabled people fly high? Removing barriers to achievement”, I must admit that I thought that it sounded a bit cheesy. But I wanted to find out more. I have heard Tom Shakespeare speak before about disability and I have found him really insightful and knowledgeable about the subject.

I had spoken to the organisers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine beforehand about what communication support they could provide. I am really grateful to them and STAGETEXT for being able to provide live speech-to-text reporting of the event at the last minute, as well as providing a BSL interpreter. It meant that the event was fully inclusive to all deaf and hard of hearing people, including non-BSL users like myself.

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Tom spoke about a lot of areas related to the social and medical models of disability, as well as barriers to achievement and what makes a successful disabled “high flyer”. I just want to focus on a couple of things he said which I could really identify with and which really seemed to resonate with me as a deafened person living with a disability myself.

He spoke about disability being diverse and complex. Disabled people are not alike and they differ in many ways. Even people with the same disability or medical condition do not have the same experience of it and often react to it in different ways. We cannot compare “apples with pears” so we shouldn’t generalise and make assumptions about different people living with a similar disability.

He explained that this is why the work capability assessments introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions do not work because they make assessments about disabled peoples’ capability to work based on general assumptions and criteria, which don’t match their individual complex medical and social care needs.

He also talked about the “paradox of disability”, which I can really relate to. When you first get an impairment or disability, especially if it’s unexpected, it’s understandably very difficult for most people to deal with it. Unsurprisingly, you feel really depressed and people often find themselves having panicky, suicidal thoughts. You think that life couldn’t possibly get any worse and go through a whole spectrum of emotions, just as if you are going through a grieving process.

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Then you get used to it and after a while, you find that living with it is not as bad as you thought it would be. Human beings are incredibly resilient and you often adapt pretty well to your new disability and changed circumstances. He said that according to academic studies, most people with a disability report a “high quality of life” against the odds, as long as you are not living in constant pain.

I can definitely relate to this and think that although I went through a very difficult time in my life when I lost my hearing unexpectedly, eventually I learned to adapt to it, although it was very difficult to communicate with other people.

Now I think my life has changed to such an extent that there have been a lot of positive things, which have come out of my experience. I have met some really great people along my journey, have changed a lot as a person and I am now looking forward to the future with renewed positivity and confidence.

Tom also talked about the common factors, which tend to make a disabled person become a ‘high flyer’. Having a good education was a big factor, according to his research. But the other common factor driving the success of disabled high achievers was they had worked incredibly hard to get there. They have struggled so hard against the odds that they are more determined than anyone else to make it.

For example, look at the hugely successful Paralympic athletes. These are clearly exceptional people, who have pushed themselves beyond their limits and exceeded everyone’s expectations of them. They are incredibly positive role models for disabled people. But are their achievements also achievable for the majority of disabled people? Do non-disabled people think all disabled people should be more like these role models?

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Tom said that the majority of disabled people, like non-disabled people, just want to lead ordinary lives. They just want to have a normal job, a family and all the things that non-disabled people want too. ‘

We need to recognise that ‘high flyers’ are exceptional people in any walk of life, whether disabled or non-disabled people. They do not represent the majority of people like us in our society.

He also talked about how disabled people are often told by non-disabled people that they are “brave” or “inspirational” etc., often just for doing normal everyday things that most people take for granted like getting dressed. This can come across as being incredibly patronising to a disabled person, when all they want is to be accepted by people and treated no different to anyone else.

On the other hand, I do think that some disabled people do some incredibly inspiring things and I am truly in awe of them. I don’t think that most non-disabled people mean to sound patronising at all. They just can’t imagine themselves doing the things disabled people are doing, if they were in their shoes. The problem is when they praise disabled people for doing normal things that they themselves take for granted. They should just treat disabled people as they would others.

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What about the barriers to achievement for disabled people? Tom talked about some of the external barriers to achievement, such as society’s attitudes towards disabled people and barriers to employment. According to government figures, 48% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 79% of non-disabled people. But the gap between the employment rate of disabled people versus non-disabled people has remained static, at around 31%, for over a decade.

It is clearly more difficult for a disabled person to become employed than a non-disabled person but the reasons for it are complex. Employers’ attitudes towards disabled people during the recruitment process remain a huge barrier, despite the existence of the Equalities Act. But Tom also said that there were also internal barriers holding disabled people back. This is due to psychosocial factors such as a lack of confidence in themselves or a doubt that they could actually do the job, despite having the necessary qualifications and experience.

Disabled people also don’t push themselves when it comes to seeking a promotion or a better skilled job. They often stay in low skilled, lower grade jobs. This is because they feel comfortable and accepted in the work environment they are in, so they don’t want to risk a new environment where others might not be so accepting of them and their disability.

During the Q&A session at the end I asked Tom what he thought about the impact of the government’s recent cuts to communication support for deaf people on the ‘Access to Work’ scheme. He replied that it was a “no brainer”. By limiting deaf people’s access to the communication support they need to carry out their jobs, it is obvious that they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs in the same way. It would reduce their chances of being successful in their careers and increase unemployment among deaf and disabled people. He said he thought the government’s decision was “blinkered”.

Overall, I agree with Tom that in terms of how and why some disabled people reach their potential and achieve great things and others don’t, we can’t just blame it all on external factors such as society and employers’ attitudes towards them. It’s a complex situation. To put it in his words “We need to strike a balance between recognising the role of oppressive barriers and celebrating individual personal qualities”.

Tom Shakespeare blog 260715_Marilyn Monroe

Shakespeare meets Two-Tone at the Chickenshed

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I recently went to see a brilliant, totally unique captioned performance of Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at the Chickenshed theatre in North London.

I’ve seen quite a few different productions of Shakespeare plays over the last couple of years, but this was unlike any other I’ve seen. It was set in the late 70s/early 80s period of Two-Tone British Ska music. The actors were dressed in black and white suits with porkpie hats and kept breaking into songs by The Specials and Madness, while hurling themselves frenetically and dancing across the stage.

Listening to the cast singing songs I knew well from when I was at school, such as ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ took me back to the days of cheesy school discos or spinning around in a fairground Waltzer car singing my heart out to the sound of the Ska music being played in the background. Happy days!

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As soon as we arrived in the studio theatre, we were met with the cast walking around the small stage in front of us, shouting and demonstrating, holding up placards and protesting really noisily. They were interacting with the audience and seemed really fired up. I knew we would be in for something totally different that evening.

The studio theatre itself is really small and intimate. Being “in the round” and only seating about 40-50 people, it meant that I could see the faces of the audience clearly. They all looked delighted and surprised at the liveliness and energy of the actors running around the stage in a very physical way as the plot unfolded before them. Both the audience and the actors looked like they were having a lot of fun.

The plot is all about mistaken identity and the chaos and hilarity that results from that. It is a light Shakespearian comedy with the plot centred on two sets of twins separated at birth, who people confuse for the other one, and just to make it even more confusing, they each have manservants, who are also twins.

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There is also a merchant who has come in search of his son, who’s looking for his brother and mother, who were both lost at sea many years ago. To cut a long story short, the whole town called Ephesus ends up mistaking each for the other, but it all gets resolved in the end when the two sets of twins become reunited and the merchant finds his sons.

I was really grateful for the captioning done by the STAGETEXT captioner Bev so that I could follow the dialogue. I was there with my wife and some deaf and hard of hearing friends. We had great seats for reading the captions, which were directly opposite us. Even though there was a good hearing loop there I needed to read the captions too, especially because the dialogue was in old Shakespearian English and also because some of the characters had strong Caribbean accents, which were difficult to follow.

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My wife told me that she was following the captions too, because even though she can hear, she would have struggled to understand the language without the captions. I think many people in the audience found them helpful too.

The very young cast all gave brilliant performances. There were some great moments, such as the scene when the rather feisty, cherubic-looking Luciana, played by Sarah Connolly, was talking to her sister Adriana, played by Tessa Ryan, while doing her aerobics routine dressed in a 1980s Jane Fonda style leotard, tights and leg warmers with the song ‘Fame’ blaring out in the background.

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I love the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and the inclusive ethos at the Chickenshed. They train and support children and adults of all abilities and backgrounds to get involved in their company and productions. They don’t turn anyone down to become a part of their theatre company, which is totally inclusive to all, regardless of their ability. They also have a lot of volunteers, who willingly give up their time to help out and be part of the whole experience.

I have some deaf friends, who have been involved in the Chickenshed since they were small children. They have grown up with it playing a big role in their lives. It is like being part of a large extended family, which welcomes them and offers them hope and encouragement in a friendly, warm environment. It is theatre, which changes people’s lives by giving them the confidence and tools they need to go out into the world and pursue their dreams without being afraid of rejection or discrimination.

I left the theatre that night with a big smile on my face against the sound of the cast singing “Enjoy yourself” by The Specials ringing in my ears. Even the ushers were singing along to the catchy tune. It was brilliant that they had made Shakespeare so fun and accessible to all through this lively, Two-Tone production. It makes me want to dig out my old Specials and Madness albums and start reliving the soundtrack of my youth!

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Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow: spellbinding!

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I recently saw one of the finest, if not the finest, pieces of acting I have ever seen in my entire life!

It was Kevin Spacey playing Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic Theatre in London in the play of the same name.

I have always admired Kevin Spacey as an actor, ever since I first saw him in such amazing films as ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘Seven’, ‘LA Confidential and ‘Swimming with Sharks’. At the moment, I’m completely hooked watching him play the evil, manipulative American politician Frank Underwood in the Netflix series ‘House of Cards’. He is without doubt one of the greatest actors of our time.

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My wife and I were both really excited at the prospect of seeing him perform live on stage and we couldn’t wait to see this play.

The Old Vic theatre is ‘in the round’ which makes for a cosy, intimate experience when you’re sitting in the stalls as we were, although I found it difficult at times to follow the captions and look at the stage at the same time. The hearing loop was excellent too, which is something that I am still getting used to.

This is a one-character play, so Kevin Spacey played the role of Clarence Darrow on his own for a full 90 minutes. His acting was fantastic! He owned the stage the entire time. I found myself being absolutely magnetised by his presence that night.

In real life Clarence Darrow was one of the greatest civil liberties lawyers in American history. In his forty-year career, he defended people who were poor, black and otherwise discriminated against by the American legal system in the early part of the twentieth century. He defended the underdog and people who couldn’t even afford to pay his legal fees, so he didn’t charge them. He was very courageous and had a strong sense of doing what he believed was right to defend innocent people.

Clarence Darrow placard

In his career, he managed to save 110 people from the gallows for being wrongly accused of murder. There was only one person he didn’t manage to save early on in his career, which he deeply regretted.

Kevin Spacey stood on the stage as the older Clarence Darrow preparing to pack up his office and retire. He was looking back on his life and career, telling it in his own words in a very humble but convincing way. It was totally mesmerising to watch him perform so passionately and emotionally just a few feet away from me. He walked around the stage and down the aisles, engaging with and bringing the audience with him as he talked about his most memorable cases and his personal life.

It must be so difficult to act on your own like that all the time and yet keep the audience so gripped. He seemed to totally involve us all in the story as he was telling it. I thought it was really clever the way he used tricks like speaking to empty chairs on the stage as if he were re-enacting his famous courtroom scenes and cross-questioning key witnesses and defendants in the trials and holding up evidence.

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Through his acting we got a glimpse of how eloquent, but humble, Clarence Darrow was, and how he managed to win over trial juries and judges by a combination of logic and his strong sense of right and wrong. Apparently, in real life he managed to reduce some trial judges to tears with his passionate pleas for them to save his defendants’ lives.

He was also courageous because he wasn’t afraid of standing up for what he believed in, even when this made him deeply unpopular. For instance, Spacey as Darrow told the audience about when he was asked to defend the McNamara brothers in 1911 by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). They had been charged with dynamiting the offices of the Los Angeles Times building a year before, which resulted in the deaths of twenty people. This trial attracted a lot of public attention, with the AFL setting up a defence fund from donations to defend the brothers and many people convinced of their innocence.

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But before the trial, when Darrow was going through the evidence, he discovered that the McNamara brothers were, in fact, guilty. He described how he didn’t know what to do as he was in such a moral dilemma. He eventually decided that the only right thing to do was to change their plea to guilty in order to spare the defendants’ lives and to plea for a custodial sentence instead. In the end, one of the brothers was imprisoned for fifteen years and the other got a life sentence.

Because of the change in plea, the ALF and other unions turned against Darrow, convinced that he had sold them out. He was also accused of bribing a member of the jury in the trial, which he denied strongly, but he faced a lengthy trial to defend himself of the bribery charge and although the jury did not find him guilty, he was forced to give up practising as a lawyer in California. It was only several years later that he decided to set up a practice again in another state, and he carried on defending people for many more years.

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Kevin Spacey’s performance was totally spellbinding. At the end the entire audience was on its feet applauding him and giving him a standing ovation. I have never seen such an audience reception in the theatre. After ten years of working as Artistic Director at the Old Vic, this is Spacey’s last season there, so I felt truly privileged to see him in one of his last performances.

I also came away feeling truly inspired by the legendary Clarence Darrow, who I had never heard of before, but I was really glad that I had discovered him. I know that times have changed since his day, but I wish that there were more people like him today who will always stand up for what they believe is right and fair, people who are never afraid to defend the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and disabled people in our society, particularly in this age of austerity and putting yourself first. People like him make our society a much fairer, better place.

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Made in Dagenham: The fight for equality goes on!

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I’ve recently discovered that I really enjoy watching musicals. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but it’s true. I’ve spent years avoiding them and telling myself I don’t enjoy them but actually, they are great fun and when I have been, I have really enjoyed myself. I love watching all accessible theatre.

I’ve seen three musicals over the last few months at the West End and they have all been absolutely superb, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because I have been lucky to see three of the best musicals on the West End stage at the moment. I know that not all musicals are as good as that.

It’s probably also because I have been rediscovering music and sound since I got my cochlear implant last summer. Going to watch musicals has become a new experience for me. Following the live captioning, combined with being able to hear the words sung and spoken by the actors more clearly than ever before because of the hearing loop, has given me a whole new experience of watching live theatre.

I went to see the West End musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ recently, which was captioned by STAGETEXT. I thought it was fantastic. It’s a really good ‘feel-good’ musical, which lifts you up and has a great storyline, based on a true story. The visuals too were stunning. The stage sets were really creative and colourful, transporting you to the Britain of the late 1960s, complete with psychedelic Swinging Sixties fashions, original Ford Cortina cars and Berni Inns.

Made in Dagenham cast

The story is based on the 1968 strike by the women working as sewing machinists at the Ford car factory in Dagenham, Essex. They made car seat covers for the Ford cars. They went on strike because they were told that their jobs were to be regraded from category B (more skilled workers) to category C (lower skilled workers), and as a result, they would be paid 15% less than the full B rate received by men.

The strike was all about fighting for equality and the right to be paid the same rate as the men, who they were working alongside in the factory. One of the women, Rita O’Grady, played by actress Gemma Arterton, became their unlikely leader and spokeswoman. She was a normal working class worker and mother, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. She ended up fighting for them all because she believed that she had to fight against this injustice and do the right thing, even when her husband walked out on her with her children as he couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I thought that Gemma Arterton was fantastic as Rita.

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Eventually, the strikers ended up stopping all car production in the UK for a few weeks as stocks of car seats ran out. The MP Barbara Castle, who was the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson’s Labour government at the time, stepped in by inviting the Dagenham women to tea with her at Westminster. I thought the actress who played Barbara Castle, Sophie-Louise Dann, was excellent. She played her as a very feisty, red-headed, strong-minded and determined woman.

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In one scene she sang a song called ‘In An Ideal World’, where she was telling them that in an ideal world, everything would be great, but we live in the real world, “where sacrifices have to be made”. She told them that the Ford bosses had agreed to give the women 92% of what the men were paid, and they would be given full category C status the next year. She said that in politics it was all about compromises and they should be grateful for what they had been offered.

The women decided though, that they didn’t want 92% of what the men were paid, so Rita decided to go to the TUC conference in Eastbourne, where she gave an impassioned speech to the Trade Unionists gathered there to a standing ovation and huge round of applause. Eventually, this led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, a huge milestone in the history of women’s campaign for equality.

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This is a great story but because of the seriousness of its message, it could have made the musical very heavy. Instead, it was very funny and entertaining, with some powerful messages behind it about fighting for justice and equality for women. There was a fantastic scene where Ford was unveiling their new Ford Cortina in Essex to the media, complete with an Austin Powers lookalike in a purple velvet suit, glamorous models in white plastic thigh-high boots and sparkly mini-dresses in the car against the backdrop of a flashy, psychedelic car showroom. Brilliant!

Made in Dagenham_Ford Capri scene

It’s amazing that this all happened almost fifty years ago. In terms of equality, a lot has been achieved since then but there is still so much more to be done before we ever reach full equality, not only for women, but also for many other groups of people, including disabled people, ethnic minorities and homosexuals.

Women are still fighting to get equal pay now, even with the Equal Pay Act, much as disabled people are still fighting to be treated equally in the workplace, despite the Equality Act 2010. It should not be about saving money and cutting costs as it is for some companies, but about treating people equally and fairly.

‘Made in Dagenham’ is a great musical based on a really powerful true story. I had a great night out and would recommend anyone to go and see it!

Made in Dagenham final scene

The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios: in a different class

Ruling Class blog_header

I first saw James McAvoy on the stage nearly two years ago in March 2013. He was playing the lead role in Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios. It was Director Jamie Lloyd’s first season of his ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ seasons, with the second one on now. It was also the first time I had ever seen a play captioned by STAGETEXT to make it accessible to me, and it changed my life.

At the time, I had been progressively losing my hearing for over three years, which had left me very hard of hearing. I was struggling to hear anything and to be able to communicate with people, so it was a difficult time for me. When I saw my first captioned performance, it was a complete revelation to me. It opened up my eyes to the joys and wonders of seeing live accessible theatre. I could actually enjoy it on equal terms to everyone else in the audience.

James McAvoy was incredible in this raw, bloody production, giving a truly captivating performance as the powerful but flawed Macbeth. He ended up being destroyed by his own blood-thirsty ambition and tortured by his own guilt at the murders he’d committed in his relentless quest to be King. His gripping performance left a lasting impression on me.

Ruling Class blog_Macbeth

As soon as I found out that James McAvoy would be returning to star in Jamie Lloyd’s new production of The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios, I knew I had to buy tickets to see it. I rushed down to the Box Office the same day and bought tickets for my wife and myself, along with some of my deaf and hard of hearing friends, to see the captioned performance.

When I arrived at the Trafalgar Studios last Monday night, the place was packed. I think the combination of the popularity and fame of James McAvoy and the fact that tickets are priced at only £15 every Monday night to appeal to a more diverse, younger crowd of theatregoers than the usual West End crowd, added to the busyness of the theatre.

Ruling Class blog_Richard + ticket

Right from the start, I was hooked. The opening scene was shocking, showing the accidental death of the pompous 13th Earl of Gurney in a bizarre sexually-motivated hanging scene, with him dressed in a ballet tutu and three-corner cocked hat. James McAvoy, as his son Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, then inherits his title and all his estate, but the problem is that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, who thinks he is Jesus Christ and has just spent the previous seven years in a psychiatric hospital.

McAvoy is brilliant as the psychotic, deluded Jack living in his fantasy world believing he is God. He rushes around the stage dressed in a white suit with a carnation, telling his horrified family that the is “The God of Love”, and when they ask how he knows he is God, he replies “When I pray to Him, I find I’m talking to myself”. He comes across as a flower-power hippy sort of God living in a trippy, psychedelic dream where everyone loves each other, and he even sleeps on a cross, which was in the middle of the stage. He seemed to have a magnetic presence on the stage, mixing boyish charm with weird, psychotic undertones.

Ruling Class blog_JC

The plot then focuses on his family scheming to have him sectioned so that they can take control of the family estate, but not before having him married off to the local floozy, who his uncle has had an affair with, so that he can produce an heir first. The whole thing is really surreal but very funny, in a very dark sort of way. The dialogue is crazy but very cleverly crafted too, mixing very old-fashioned, aristocratic language with weird gobble-de-gook that spurts out of McAvoy’s mouth when he is ranting psychotically, like verbal diarrhoea. At times the cast also spontaneously burst into song, singing away like they are in the middle of a pantomime. It was hilarious.

Ruling Class blog_Clare+ Shelly

Eventually, the young Jack goes from thinking he’s Jesus Christ to thinking he’s Jack the Ripper, with tragic consequences. McAvoy transforms himself from God-like and serene to the sneering, nasty, aristocratic Earl of Gurney/Jack the Ripper, who then manages to convince his family that he has become “normal” and been cured. He then takes his place in the House of Lords in a very macabre scene towards the end where the other Lords and judges there are shown as decrepit skeletons, covered in cobwebs.

Ruling Class blog_Jack The Ripper

I hadn’t heard of this play before but I found out that Peter Barnes wrote it in the 1960s. It was the era of the Profumo affair when the aristocracy and privileged elite ruled the country, with the class system being firmly entrenched. Barnes was mocking the class system and political hierarchy of the time, where the aristocracy believed they had a God-given right to rule the rest of us. I think that this has a lot of relevance to today’s society. We still live in an age where the super-rich, aristocrats and political elite class rule our society, and social inequality is greater than ever.

Ruling Class blog_McAvoy as King

The theme of the aristocratic ruling classes looking down upon the working classes is a constant theme running throughout the play. When Jack commits his first murder of Lady Claire, everyone immediately assumes that the murder was committed by his alcoholic, working class butler Daniel Tucker. Also, in an earlier scene, Jack’s uncle, Sir Charles Gurney, thinks nothing of getting his mistress with a broad Cockney accent Grace Shelley to pretend to be the Lady of the Camelias from the opera La Traviata, to con Jack into marrying her. But the artistocratic class is mocked constantly through this play too.

Ruling Class blog_butler

I thought that all the actors played their roles brilliantly, but James McAvoy stole the show with his magnetic presence on the stage. Well done to Alex, the captioner from STAGETEXT too for captioning such bizarre, difficult dialogue. The only problem was that the caption unit was placed high above the stage so it was difficult for us to keep looking down at the stage and back up to read the captions from where we were sitting, as we were seated quite low down. Also, there was a Q&A session with some of the cast and Jamie Lloyd afterwards but I didn’t stay for this as there was no live speech-to-text reporting provided. It would be better if this could be provided next time, if they are thinking of having another Q&A session on a captioned night.

Overall though, this was a great production. I really enjoyed it, and from the reaction from my wife and friends afterwards, so did they. It was surprising, shocking, funny and deliciously dark. It’s well worth seeing, if you haven’t already!

Ruling Class blog_McAvoy + Lloyd