Not Now Bernarda

The HIMG_0295ouse of Bernarda Alba, Royal Exchange, Manchester, Saturday 25th February 2017

The idea behind this ‘uniquely accessible’ production was interesting and innovative. A joint project of the Royal Exchange and Gaea Theatre Company, it was designed bring “different theatrical languages to bear” on the text of Lorca’s last drama by using D/deaf and disabled actors as well as live captioning, British Sign Language and audio description.

The reality in front of me was a number of technical flaws that made it impossible to get into the flow of the action. My experiences of accessible plays have generally gone one of two ways: they have added extra and intriguing layers of interpretation, by expressing language in a different way; or the accessible elements have been integrated to such an extent that, after a little while, I’ve stopped noticing them.

It was difficult to do either with this production, for two reasons. The first was the constant discrepancy between the captioning text and the spoken word of the actors. At times, this meant a word like ‘Now’ appearing at the end rather than the start of a sentence. At other points, the variation more significant, where different pronouns were used, and the sense of the text was lost. It’s hard to engage with the drama, while constantly wondering if the caption was right, or the actor rights, or whether the discrepancy made a difference.

The second barrier was that the captioning was totally out of sync for the first ten minutes of the second half. Like a conference presentation going horribly wrong, the screen showed text from much later in the play, then flashed randomly with snippets of text, before going blank for a few minutes.

While all this happening, the actors switched between BSL and spoken English. While they were using BSL, the non-signing audience members like me could not follow what was going on. When the actors were speaking, the situation for the audience was reversed. Even if they could read lips, the Royal Exchange is theatre in the round, so not all the actors’ faces would have been visible at any one point.

This was penultimate performance of the run, so minor and major errors like this should have been ironed out way in advance.

The captioning did finally get back in sync, but by this point, bewildered and irritated, I had all but lost interest.

17 down – 84 to go

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