The flat is full of people, colour and light. Rob and Amy are down from Manchester. Mel and Brian are smoking shisha. My cousin-outlaw is currently in the dark park over the road chanting at the base of the Buddha. I’m sitting on the sofa while Gangs of New York plays on the huge crazy home cinema set up. I’m thinking about the shape of my day today.
My cousin and I went to Hackney, to the empire. There’s some interesting and timely work coming out of that place. It’s well run. This was the culmination of a week of work exploring how to bring in BSL and audio description. Usually when a show is interpreted, the signer is put to the edge of the action so hearing impaired audience are having to look away, refer back, look away, refer back. Constantly behind the action. Can the signer be part of it? Can we bring in audio description and add to the action on stage with it? How does the audio description interact with the sign language?
They has the bones of some interesting work here. Part of me wanted to see it applied to a customised text and part of me preferred the difficulty they were exploring of applying it to existing (very lyrical) text. As a sighted and hearing auditent it was stimulating seeing three people simultaneously play one part. But I love visible process. It’s a big part of my groove. It’s why I love The Factory. The edges of what’s made are as curious and characterful as the middle. And i enjoyed seeing one actor delivering and channeling text, one actor bringing gesture and expression through BSL, and one actor neutrally handling language and description. It was strange but positive. If they get some funding they can develop something unusual and shifting. But that’s the endless issue in this industry. Making interesting stuff takes bodies and minds in space over time. And we all need to eat, especially the people who have space in London, who eat caviar.
Earlier this summer I watched Ferdy Kingsley read a letter by James Joyce. It was evening, after sunset, at Wilderness Festival. The letter is affectionately known as “farting Nora” and it is actively filthy. Like really really filthy. The ultimate expression of the fallout of Catholicism. Horrified parents were rushing away in droves with laughing children in tow. There was a sign interpreter there, and they used him to remarkable effect even if he was to the side. The audience was far more engaged in his pantomime struggle to accurately sign all of the filth in the letter than in Ben Kingsley’s son busting out his excellent Irish accent on the stage. He gave the time needed for the poor BSL guy to flounder. But there was joy in the audience, and surprise. “I’ve never seen a sign interpreter upstaging an actor before,” one friend remarked to me. And if course she was right. They were playing with the convention that the BSL interpreter is supposed to be invisible to the hearing portion of the audience. Our instinctive absorbtion of that convention made it funny. There was a ripple round the audience. “Look at the sign interpreter.” Because usually we don’t, because we can hear… But this workshop today challenged that convention. Because why not have two languages equally important and running simultaneously? It’s something to think about.