Image courtesy National Theatre website.

Recently I was organising some theatre tickets for a Spanish friend for her Mum’s visit to London. We met for drinks beforehand and I realised that her Mum spoke very little English. I asked about how she would connect with the show and her daughter said “It’s OK. I just whisper in her ear the important bits”.

It made me think back to times at the theatre when I have been sat near whispering translators, which is usually OK for musicals but it can be very distracting for plays.

It seems unkind to ask them to stop, as their companion may not know what is happening, but also it is a distraction for the rest of the audience, as well as a burden for the person doing the translating. Besides which, the person receiving the translation may also feel uncomfortable about the whole process- grateful but acutely aware of the disturbance to others. In short, it’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

So what can be done?

I am proud that our UK theatre attracts so much interest from visitors from all parts of the world but I feel that we are not doing enough to allow them to enjoy it

You may have heard of the recent development of “caption glasses” which the National Theatre has now introduced successfully across all its auditoria. (For my earlier article about these, click here). These glasses were designed to provide the service of captioned dialogue for those who are deaf or hard of hearing and is already proving a  great success. Unlike the previous captioned performance, the glasses are available at all auditoria for every performance- a real advance.

As a logical extension, if people are already reading captions in English, why should others not be able to read captions in other languages too?

Imagine how much more of a fulfilling experience theatre could be for those who speak little English if they could follow the show with captioned glasses in their own language?

I appreciate that these improvements take time and money to implement, but just imagine being able to welcome visitors from around the globe and make them feel at home with access to one of the UK’s proudest achievements – our incredible theatre.

I aim to talk to the National Theatre about this and will let you know of any developments

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