When my old school friend, Ralph Bogard, asked me to come and see him in a sign language version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I wasn’t sure what I’d be faced with.
The first thing that struck us, Kirrily and I, when we arrived at the Globe was that we’d never seen so many deaf people in place before. Sign language was all around us. Watching them made me wish I could do it.
The show started with live folk musicians coming on to the stage playing as they walked. Screens on each side of the stage gave a description of each scene. Two fairies capered about on the main part of the stage while two smartly dressed people signed the dialogue from the balcony. The fairies repeated what they said. This technique was used a few times throughout the play but generally the signing was so expressive that we didn’t require any interpretation. They often signed in time with the music which made the whole thing feel like some fascinating form of dance.
Hermia’s father and Peter Quince were played by my friend, Ralph. It was a real treat to see him on that stage after being in numerous school plays with him. I found myself grinning like a nutter the entire time he was on the stage.
Mortals fell in and out of love. Fairies caused mischief. Musicians played.
I had a pint of Globe Ale at the interval and enjoyed the jolly unpretentious atmosphere. Kirrily agreed that the show was far more entertaining and beautiful than we’d expected.
The second act started with more music and more fairy capering. Bottom and his gang rehearsed their show with much hilariously manic signing and giggles. A real high point was the innovation and stylish genius of Bottom’s donkey costume. He had a huge full face helmet, made out of what looked like old bits of cardboard with two large plastic bottles for ears, and a pair of tin cans as hooves. Watching him try to sign with those cans on his hands was the cause of much laughter in the audience.
At the end of the show, we all clapped and cheered. The actors beamed down at us but their happiness was tinged with that bitter-sweet ‘end of run’ sadness that balances the triumph of what they’ve accomplished with regret that it’s over. As I turned to Kirrily to express my admiration for the show, I spotted another old friend in the audience. Jodie Jacobs – musical theatre actress, singer and person who features heavily in the fondest memories of my childhood – was standing with a group of people. Kirrily and I were quickly swept along with their group, with many school day reminiscences, until we met up with Ralph in the foyer of the theatre. Half of our group detached itself and went off to meet with others in a pub leaving Kirrily, Jodie, one of Ralph’s other friends and myself to follow Ralph upstairs into the after-show party.
Feeling thoroughly naughty, I gingerly walked among the stars of the show thinking the whole time, “Holy fuck, I’m at an after-show party at the Globe.” Ralph handed us a drink each and we formed a little huddle of ‘people who felt a big cheeky being there’ while our own star of the show went off hobnobbing with the others. I felt bad for Kirrily because Jodie and I couldn’t seem to stop talking about our school days and what had become of people we knew. Speeches were made by all the important people and we headed for the pub feeling like we’d had a nice time.
At the pub, I met another old friend, Wayne Tassie, who I was also very pleased to see. Many drinks were consumed and before we knew it we were seated in a restaurant ordering food and cocktails surrounded by a very agreeable group of people. My queasy stomach compelled Kirrily and I to leave (and I may have been a little sick on the train on the way home) but we both agreed that, despite the fact that we’d fully intended to watch the show then go home and we were now sitting on one of the last trains home after having a skin full, we had truly had a lovely day.
With special thanks to Ralph Bogard and Deafinitely Theatre (www.deafinitelytheatre.co.uk)