Laundry Boy

Face Front aim to be an inclusive theatre company that welcome a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers and audiences. Their latest production Laundry Boy lasted 75 minutes and focused on the issues and important decisions that a person faces as they enter adulthood. The protagonist – Martin, a learning disabled son of a loving mother who with the best will in the world wants to protect him from the harsh things in life, acts out his story of gaining independence. I must applaud the production for focusing on the theme of independence rather than disability. Frequently, it seems, a disabled character is put on the stage or screen and the only thing that is portrayed as exciting about them is their disability. Martin was complemented by the feisty Zoe, who’s disability was recognised, as she told Martin of her new independent flat where she had the required support, but her strong personality shone through as we watched her study, work and play. The script was written and the characters devised to really allow the audience to see past disability (but not completely avoid it) with ease.

Two narrators (1 deaf, 1 hearing) acted as “Time” and provided the BSL (British Sign Language) translation for the piece. The male Time sign interpreted the lines of the two male characters (Martin and his Dad), whilst the female Time signed for the two female charaters (Mum and Zoe.) These BSL stage interpreters were fully integrated into the action, reacting with other characters and set.

Integrating sign language, rather than using an interpreter stood at the side of the stage often makes it much easier for the audience to follow the action and BSL translation. For the most part it was clear through the BSL which character was speaking although a few issues with stage blocking and poor lighting resulted in complete obstruction or difficulty in seeing these vital characters. Although they both brought a great energy to the piece they didn’t seen to know where to focus. Sometimes they appeared to converse with each other, then projected the signs to the audience, then signed to the character they were signing for and then to the character their character was talking to. (phew!) I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong way for integrated signers to direct their focus but I think it is important to set up that convention and stick to it.

Sign names were established clearly, I believe this to be important in theatre as it removes fingerspelling (problematic to view from a distance) and tells the audience something about the character. As I entered the studio to find my seat, a young woman later to be revealed as Zoe asked me if I’d seen him (points at a picture clutched in her hands), “he’s got black spiky hair”. When Martin’s sign name was established it reflected that, adding a little something to his character.

All sound had accompanying visuals, for example as the recorded sound of a ticking clock was heard projections appeared and gobos were used to describe the sound visually. In addition to accessibility for deaf or hearing impaired audiences, Audio Description was also integrated into the piece, a beautiful moment where Martin and Zoe are in love and alone together had their actions described through a song. This integrated access not only benefited audiences with sensory impairments it also added a little something special to be appreciated by all.

The set was simple, creative and used well by the actors. Scene changes were carried out by the cast, not a problem in itself if done with purpose, unfortunately they were a bit lengthy and awkward as the actors completely broke character to move set. This meant the actors needed to work extra hard to rebuild the energy lost through the scene changes but regrettably the injection of energy was not enough and the play began to lose pace, what should have been a terrifyingly tense moment with a missing Martin lacked commitment and the spell over me was broken. This wasn’t helped when Zoe and Mum were looking for Martin, they started asking imaginary people where he was, why didn’t they go back to asking the audience? Invisible people on stage are generally a huge no and made the performance lose a professionality point.

Whilst many things were great about this production it could have done with that final polish and boost in energy, especially at the end to really make it shine.

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