Community member Eleanor Burke, (pictured to the left with her guide dog Ava standing in front of the Charing Cross Theatre in London) talks about her experience of going to see The Braille Legacy.
I first heard about The Braille Legacy through RNIB Connect magazine. It is a new musical based on the heroic achievements of a young blind Frenchman, who over 200 years ago invented the tactile alphabet, impacting the lives of blind people worldwide for centuries since.
The venue, Charing Cross Theatre in London, also suggested that this was not just a musical put on by one of the large organisations for the blind, but rather it was a musical to appeal to all! As a braille reader from the age of 10, I was immediately interested.
At first, there was confusion as to who was taking the bookings for the performances. Using the telephone number from Connect, I was passed on to Ticketmaster who then passed me on to Charing Cross Theatre. I contacted the Connect team to get another telephone number and this time got through to the right person.
I was particularly interested in the touch tour and audio described performances on the 27th and 29th May. Unfortunately, the audio described performance on 27 May was fully booked as all the head sets were already allocated, so I took to Twitter to express my disappointment.
Furthermore, I was informed that as I was bringing my guide dog Ava along with me, I would have to purchase the upper end price tickets as the cheaper ones would not be suitable.
Following my social media post, I was contacted by the Charing Cross Theatre booking office, who advised me that additional headsets had been purchased and I would be issued with one for the 29th May instead of the show on the 27th May that I originally wanted to attend.
Information about accessible underground tube stations was provided in advance, but with no meaningful instruction as to how to get to Charing Cross Theatre from the stations. This is a vital piece of information for those of us with vision loss.
On the day, I attended with my sighted friend Lynda. The touch tour took place an hour before the performance. It was somewhat chaotic at first. We were ushered along with other blind patrons into the theatre where there were children singing. The level of noise was so extreme I did not know what was going on and it was impossible for me to even ask Lynda if she had any idea. It was a relief when the children left and I was then able to hear what the theatre staff were saying.
Members of the cast introduced themselves to us, which I thought was very helpful as it was like having an audio cast list. Seated in rows, we were then handed props which would be used throughout the performance. I was handed two large dice (depicting the braille cell of six dots), along with two cloth-covered canes, which would be used during the show to cane the blind children at the Paris Institute for the Blind.
I found the touch tour very interesting, as being vision impaired, one misses out a lot on not knowing what props are used throughout any given performance.
I was disappointed not to be handed more props or period costumes worn by the cast throughout the performance. Lynda did tell me that others did have the opportunity to feel hats and other costumes, which I put it down to the fact that there were a lot of blind and vision impaired people taking part and limited theatre staff showing us the props.
We were then invited to go on stage to experience the movement of the main stage prop. It was a large revolving structure, representative of various rooms at the Institute for the Blind. It was constructed in such a way as to indicate when cast members were on the ground floor or an upper level. This part of the tour did not have much real meaning for me, as it was really based on visual effect rather than tactile significance.
It would be interesting to know if organisations for the blind or blind individuals/groups were consulted on what aspects of the touch tour would have had most meaning.
Once the musical got underway, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could easily follow the storyline. I could hear the words clearly, which is not always the case when attending musicals. The theatre was small and had a capacity of 250 people, so there was not over-amplification of sound, which can often lead to distortion in my experience.
I was issued with my headset for the audio description, however, I have found in most cases that the headsets are so uncomfortable and cumbersome, that I cannot wear them throughout the performance. Even when I do wear them for a while, invariably the person reading the audio description is drowned out by the music. This was also the case at The Braille Legacy. It is really disappointing when this happens, as so much is lost when lots of effort and time has gone in to an excellent production and a wonderfully written script description for blind patrons.
In conclusion, purchasing tickets was somewhat confusing and time consuming. Access via the underground to the venue was good, but it would have helped greatly if there had been a route plan available for blind and vision impaired attendees. The touch tour was in theory excellent, but in practice unsatisfactory. The audio description is ideal and welcomed, but needs to be synchronised so that it is not competing with the performance. And lastly, a braille programme would have been ideal for me as a braille reader, particularly because of the background of the musical performance.