As part of my Apprenticeship with Solar Bear (a company that makes and promotes accessible theatre, you can find them on their website, Twitter or Facebook page!), I went to see three different accessible performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to review them. I hope you will enjoy reading these reviews! Any questions or inquiry can be directed to my work email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW ONE // PEOPLE OF THE EYE
Photograph by David Monteith-Hodge
The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble delivered a visually powerful piece directed by Jennifer Bates in British Sign Language (BSL), spoken language and captions via a projector. The play explores the truths of people being affected by deafness and and celebrates the richness and joy of sign language.
I related to this piece so much, especially through Erin Siobhan Hutching’s authentic writing that was based on real events that are performed beautifully by the charismatic duo of Erin with Emily Howlett.
I related heavily to the sisters during the funeral scene and to being told “your voice is stupid” with both comedy and sadness. I know what it’s like to be told that your voice is weird, or not being able to get the information that you want to get because I am deaf. This is all the more poignant because of the real life experiences that the actors bring to their performance and the powerful visual symbolisms they used to represent some parts of the performance.
The play had a “power” over me as a deaf person, as there was small snippets of the show that perhaps only a deaf person or a person involved in the deaf community will understand, which is a reversal of what I am used to. I think perhaps more could have been done to extend this to provoke other audience members into thinking more about accessibility and inclusivity relating to how deaf people feel the majority of times when accessing theatre. There are parts however, where the performers engages with the audience, and teach them a few words in BSL with hilarious results.
I rather liked the use of the projector. I felt this creative use of captions and visuals helped me as an audience member to engage better with the performance. The future of accessible theatre relies on performances such as this. The possibilities make me very excited.
This is the second time I’ve seen this, the first time when it was still developing at the Forest Fringe’s BSL Access Day in 2015, with Erin and Sophie Stone and I still very much enjoyed this performance. I would highly recommend this show.
Running until 27th August (except Wednesdays) at 1pm at Summerhall. Book tickets here.
SHOW TWO // ADLER & GIBB
The first thing that came to my head was, despite the high quality of the BSL interpreter Gill Wood, I should have seen this captioned. There is notably a lot of talking and very little action in a topic that I know nothing about, my eyes were really strained and with English as my first language I felt I still had to back translate the BSL into English in my head. This made it quite difficult to follow.
What made it harder for me, being a visual person, was very little happens on the stage. This made it more difficult for me to review this piece. I was told that this is a satirical piece about method acting, and yet I couldn’t pick this out.
A nameless student delivered the accounts of Janet Adler, which was an interesting choice. However, even though she delivered the lectures with zealous devotion like a dedicated student, whenever she sat behind the interpreter she fidgeted a lot which was quite distracting especially for me as a deaf person. It is possible that the actor didn’t realise that this creates visual noise making it harder to focus on what is being said.
A young girl walking around in headphones directed by another person to supply the props was a very interesting concept, and one that I enjoyed watching. Gina Moxley’s presence on the stage as the widower Margaret Gibb was powerful and emotional, and I was drawn to her.
Running on August 16th-21st and 23rd-27th at 5.15pm at Summerhall. Book tickets here.
SHOW THREE // JOAN
I will have to be honest; I admittedly had low expectation for this performance. I knew it was some sort of a drag king performance (which typically isn’t my cup of tea), but what I did not expect was a funny and heartfelt performance that includes elements of theatre, cabaret and drag king performance that explores powerful and relevant theme of gender, gender expression and oppression.
It is intelligently and thought-provoking written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck, and hilariously performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson. Parkinson also connects with the audience emotionally, seamlessly transitioning from comedy to hopelessness.
The script does need a bit of work, especially with little background knowledge of Joan of Arc (luckily I did some quick research before entering), but this cunning and lyrical script has the potential to become something more.
Lucy’s engagement with the audience cabaret-style was some of the funniest I’ve seen in a while, with one side of the audience becoming galloping horses with delightfully amusing results.
While initially embarrassed by having to hold the phone up and getting glares from audience members to use Talking Birds’ innovative Difference Engine (a new captioning technology for mobile phones or tablet) it surprisingly worked incredibly well. This show would work very well with a BSL interpreter for deaf people who prefer BSL, and I think it would work really well in a small setting even if it is only for one night. Below is an image of what the captions look likes on Difference Engine on my mobile phone, although in beta stage, it was nearly always in sync and I could move it around whenever the performer moved around on stage. Traditional captioning would work better in a big proscenium stage, however this worked better for a small arena stage like as used in Joan.
Her drag persona entertained so much through songs, and I was able to enjoy it more thanks to the Difference Engine as the new line of the song came up before that line is sung so for once I was able to feel connected through songs in theatre.
I was rather glad that this show completely exceeded my expectations. This is another show I would recommend!
(It must be noted that the Difference Engine won’t make this show accessible to all deaf people, as there are some who would only be able to understand this show through BSL interpreters.)
Running until 29th August at 7.20pm at Big Belly, Underbelly Cowgate. Book tickets here.