Monthly Archives: February 2014

How do you tell a joke in British Sign Language? Jeni Draper on restaging Bryony Lavery’s ‘Frozen’

Neil Fox-Roberts, Mike Hugo, Sophie Stone, Deepa Shastri

What are the challenges of reinterpreting a well known play through the medium of BSL? What creative opportunities does it through up? And most importantly – how do you tell a joke in sign language? Jeni Draper, director, actress and founder of The Fingersmiths Ltd, offers an insight into the process of staging Bryony Lavery’s Frozen, at the Albany Tuesday 18 February (11am & 7.30pm) and Wednesday 19 February (7.30pm). Find out more here.   

I read Frozen a few years ago and mentally filed it as a fantastic play that would translate into BSL brilliantly. It starts as a series of monologues from the 3 characters. I knew immediately that I would like to direct this with a double cast, telling the stories in both British Sign language and spoken English.  Not only does this fulfill the fingersmiths aim to present both languages on stage, but we could also give a double whammy to our audiences seeing 2 mothers grieving over a missing child, 2 child abusers and 2 psychiatrists. The theatrical opportunities were endless…….grief manifests in many ways and with 2 actresses we could explore this; 2 men working together to lure a child into a van resonates with the awful truth of paedophile rings. I realised there was potential for Frozen to work on many levels in an audience’s mind.

It is beautifully written and the very powerful emotions are explored both subtly and in their most raw state. When this is translated into a theatrical version of BSL the story telling becomes very visual and visceral. Not without its challenges though! Agnetha, the psychiatrist in the play, presents a lecture about the brain; what different parts of the brain do, what happens if an area doesn’t develop fully. We needed help to understand this and how to translate this into BSL so that a non academic audience would understand. A few emails later and I was in touch with Dr Sally Austen (a clinical psychologist specialising in working with Deaf and disabled people with mental health issues). Not only does Sally sign, she lives and works in Birmingham, loves theatre and was more than happy to support us. A godsend!

Sally spent a day with the company explaining about the development of the brain, her day-to-day work, anecdotes to support Deepa Shastri and Sophie Stones’ character research for Agnetha and generally becoming an honorary fingersmith. By the end of the day we were reeling with information but definitely clearer as to how the brain works. We also worked with Judith Jackson who is a BSL linguist specialising in theatre translation. Jean St Clair was at school with Judith, she had taught Neil Fox at Reading Uni on their Theatre for the Deaf training course and she was my assessor when learning BSL stage 3 back in the day, who put me through the mill but I thank her immensely for this. Judith has worked on every fingersmiths play; her insight is essential. Although I have been signing for more years than I care to say in print and I work as a sign language interpreter as well as a theatre director, my first language is still English and things get missed. Judith still puts me through the mill….I clearly enjoy this! Theatre is a collaborative process and I have loved the learning whilst developing Frozen.

We face one more translation issue. Deaf jokes are very different to hearing jokes.Bryony Lavery has written a joke in the play which is based on word play. The topic of the joke is relevant to the play, the execution is short and sharp and although not eliciting a belly laugh, where it occurs in the plot does allow the audience to respond. This joke does not translate well into BSL! Deaf jokes are brilliant. The best joke tellers take on multiple characters, vary the speed of delivery, can present exact locations in a fraction of a second and by and large they are long. Now, I am not particularly interested in simultaneous translation all through the play as that is boring but at this particular point of the play we can’t be miles apart in our 2 languages. Endless conversations and joke telling ensued (and they call rehearsal ‘work’!) and we have found our equivalent. It is funny, it is shorter than normal, the topic is relevant to the story. Job done. I clearly can’t tell you the joke here or you won’t come and see the play but you can ask me in the bar after or better still, ask one of the Deaf cast to re-tell it and I’ll get my interpreting hat on and voice over for you! There are a few moments in the play when sign language interpreters will have a different experience to anyone else in the audience and this is one of them. It messes with your head seeing and hearing different things but i reckon if I can cope so can my peers.

Working with Bryony has been amazing too. From day one of our R&D at National Theatre Studios she understood fingersmiths style and aims and has been with us ever since. This production has some new lines she has written for us as I wanted to set the play now and some things have changed since the play was first presented at the Rep in 1998 e.g. most American states use lethal injection rather than the electric chair now and a mention of a ‘nicam digital television’ doesn’t have the same impact now as a ‘Samsung 43″ plasma television with wide colour enhancer plus’ so thank you Bryony for the additions.

One of the reasons for wanting to have some 21st century information in the script was to reinforce the topicality of the issues of child abduction and killing. Whilst rehearsing we were reading about the little boy in Edinburgh who was missing and then found dead. There was more information about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and of course the investigations following the revelations about Saville are ongoing. It sadly feels very timely to be presenting Frozen in 2014. It is an extraordinary play and we want to support anyone in our audience who is affected by any of the issues. We are very grateful to have support from NSPCC who have created a take away postcard with information about their services, which will be available to every audience member to take away. At every venue we will have NSPCC helpline counsellors available to sign post to local services and on Dr Sally Austen’s website there is a list of services nationally that are accessible for Deaf people. We have volunteer interpreters front of house to be with NSPCC staff and we have a range of post show discussions too.

We hope you enjoy the show. Do tell us what you think; we are a new company and need to know the good the bad and the ugly, so let us know please either through this theatre, on our website or come and have a chat in the bar after the show!

Jeni Draper, director, actress and founder of The Fingersmiths

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The Albany All Stars!

It’s that time of year, when the grey days are being brightened up with the sparkle of lots of shiny plaudits and laurels for the great and good. From the New Year’s Honours list, which celebrated heroes both sung and unsung in January, to plaudits being handed out to entertainment industry stars at the Grammys, the BAFTAs and the Oscars in less than a month, mantelpieces around the globe are positively groaning with new silverware.

This weekend at the Albany, Jonzi D is performing The Letter as part of Lyrikal Fearta (Friday 7 & Saturday 8 February, 7.30pm), his personal account of receiving an MBE, and the difficult choice he faced about whether or not to accept it. Find out more details here.

In the spirit of all this, we have put together our very own honours list of some of our personal heroes here at the Albany, drawn from the various communities we’re engaged with. Not all of their names are recognisable, but we think they’re flipping fantastic, and that’s why we’re giving them a shout out here.

This list is far from exhaustive, and if you think we’re missing anyone (we’re sure we are), please leave us a comment and let us know! Or alternatively share our Albany Award via Facebook with one of your personal heroes and let them know they are appreciated.

So, in no particular order…. Drum roll please…

Armani Quarrington-Gray

Armani Quarrington-Gray is a talented member of our Uncover Youth Arts Programme and all round Lewisham legend. In 2013 she became a Lewisham pupil ambassador, working with the council to represent the voice of young people in the borough and ensure her peers are connected with the political process. She ran to be Young Mayor of Lewisham with an awesome policy designed to create a safe space for teenage girls to socialise, and although she missed out this year, she is bound to keep doing remarkable things.

All of the young people that take part in our Uncover programme are outstanding and do so many extraordinary things it is impossible to cover them here – but they all inspire us, every day.

Doreen Lawrence

We’re not the only people to notice that Doreen Lawrence is a truly remarkable woman, who has turned the tragic murder of her son, Stephen Lawrence, into something incredibly positive, campaigning for fairness and justice and for reforms of the police service, and establishing the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to support young people in transforming their lives.

But she has played a particularly powerful role in Lewisham, where the Stephen Lawrence Centre is based, providing free training courses to local young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Kathy Dunbar and Gill Hart

Kathy Dunbar and Gill Hart are co-chairs of New Cross Learning, a remarkable community space a short wander from the Albany.

In 2011, New Cross Library was closed due to funding cuts. Kathy and Gill led the campaign to save the library, and in 2013, it reopened as New Cross Learning, or the New Cross People’s Library, run entirely by a team of over 60 volunteers with the support of local community charity Bold Vision.

Books are being issued again with the support of staff from other local libraries, and a second-hand book shop has been opened to raise funds. The library is open four days a week, hosting a range of local events, workshops and family activities.

It’s a great example of the remarkable community spirit that is thriving in New Cross and Deptford.

Kate Tempest

2013 was Kate Tempest’s year, when her show, Brand New Ancients, went INTERGALACTIC. … Kate is a Deptford lass through and through, often talking about her love for the local area, and the rich, complex tapestry of South East London is a running thread in much of her work. She’s also one of the most lovely, down-to-earth people you’ll ever have the good fortune to meet. We’re delighted to be welcoming her back with two shows this season: her play Glasshouse by Cardboard Citizens is in the building this week, and of course we have the return of the phenomenal Brand New Ancients for one night only.

We’re so proud of all she’s achieved: a testament to the incredible artistic talent living and working in South East London – a true Albany All Star.

Joan Ruddock MP

Joan Ruddock is our local MP here in Lewisham, and has been dedicated to the area for years, since 1987. It’s rare to come across an MP that is talked about in such warm tones, particularly after such a long tenure. She’s a great champion of the arts, as an Honorary Fellow of Laban London and a member of the Board of Trinity Laban. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2012 New Year’s Honours for public and political services. She will stand down at the next election, and will be much missed.

Meet me at the Albany Volunteers

Meet Me at the Albany Volunteers are an essential part of the Meet Me at the Albany experience every week – our artist-led day club for the Over 60s. For someone potentially isolated and lonely, those first steps through the doors can be the hardest. With bags of enthusiasm and friendly smiles our regular team of volunteers provide a big welcome that settles nerves and contributes to the overall social experience at Meet Me. The volunteers themselves help out on the day in different ways. Some help make tea, serve lunch, and help set-up the room, others assist the artists on the day with their activities – all essential in helping to keep the event running smoothly. We have a volunteer who is a poet and during a previous poetry workshop led by a professional poet, she assisted in the workshop helping to encourage members to put pen to paper. We have Psychosocial Studies students volunteering in turn helping to develop their personal interests and motivations. An Opera singer, an actor and a Ukulele player – the list goes on. WE WANT TO AWARD YOU FOR THIS!

Our volunteers are:

 Margaret Mitchell

Serena Vincenzi

Anita Whitfield

Mary Heelan

Elena Byers

Emily Chapple

Elly Bamber

Christine Saxon

Lucreta La Pierre

Rosemary Henderson

Verity Barrett

Paul Wood

Maddy Andrews

Julie Oulia

Kurban Haji

Amber Massie-Blomfield, Head of Communications, the Albany

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On Thursday 13 February, true storysmiths Tales of Whatever will be joining us for a delectable night of food and love themed true tales, told firsthand by the people that experienced them. Find out more about the event here.

To get you in the mood, here’s a bonafide yarn from Nija Dalal about an unusual encounter in a Taco Bell.

Founded and presented by writer-performer Mark Powell and now in its third year, Manchester-based monthly storytelling event Tales of Whatever places first-timers alongside more seasoned performers to share a 10-minute, experience-based true story, told live without notes in front of a public audience.

Speakers to date have come from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Gauteng, Salford and New York City, and ToW has been approached to host special sessions and workshops for a wide range of organisations including Festival No.6, Cornerhouse, The Albany, BBC Radio 3 and Manchester Science Festival.
Find out more about them at, or follow them on Twitter: @talesofwhatever

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February 3, 2014 · 3:53 pm