It’s access for all for St Albans’ Company of Ten’s latest production

Andy Mills in Two Gentlemen of Verona Andy Mills in Two Gentlemen of Verona

Friday, February 21, 2014
3:29 PM

Blind and partially sighted people will be able to fully appreciate the on-stage antics in the Company of Ten’s next production, Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. The comedy, which is showing on the main stage at the Abbey Theatre from next Thursday, February 27, until Saturday, March 8, is packed with physical comedy – including some scenes involving a recalcitrant dog.

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And thanks to an audio-describing service that has been on offer at the theatre since late 2012, even those who aren’t able to see the action for themselves will be able to enjoy the experience.

During one performance in every main stage show by the Company of Ten, blind and partially sighted audience members can listen to a live audio-description through a headset.

The service is provided by two volunteers sitting in the sound booth at the back of the auditorium and includes a description of the set and costumes before the show starts as well as a running commentary during the performance.

The Company of Ten’s five audio-describers were trained by Mary Plackett, a member of the company and one of the UK’s leading trainers in audio-description. According to Mary – who regularly works with the Royal Shakespeare Company – the team attend rehearsals for several weeks ahead of the run to familiarise themselves with the play.

She explained: “We also use video recordings of the rehearsals so we know the timing and pace of it intimately. The cardinal sin of audio description is to talk over the actors!”

Volunteer Jan Hayward admits The Two Gentlemen of Verona could be especially challenging for the team due to its four-legged star.

She said: “When describing a fast-moving comedy with plenty of humour we need to make sure that the blind or partially sighted audience member understands why people are laughing and feels included. The appearance of the dog in this play could pose particular dilemmas, as animals are so unpredictable.

“The ‘actor’ playing Crab is a cocker spaniel called Bart. He’s owned by Andy Mills, who is taking the role of Crab’s master, and he’s a lovely dog – but we’re in no doubt that he will keep us on our toes just as he does the characters in the play.”

Performances take place at 8pm from next Thursday to Saturday March 1, at 2.30pm on Sunday, March 2, and at 8pm from Wednesday, March 5, until Saturday, March 8. To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.

The audio-described performance is at 8pm on Thursday, March 6. Audience members wishing to use the service should book either by phone or in person at the box office.

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