The Boat and the Blue by Sinfonia Viva: an accessible show for the family 

I was recently invited along to an accessible showing of a performance called The Boat and the Blue, which with its live music by Sinfonia Viva orchestra has won an award for the ‘Best Family Event’ at the Family Arts Festival in 2016. 

It’s a storytelling adventure with live music, games and visuals and by attending the show you also get a CD and the book of the story to take home.

Being a mum to two children under four, I was keen to see how having a BSL interpreter would ensure deaf children could participate and enjoy the show as much as their hearing peers.  

The interpreter, Sarah Gatford, was stood on the far left of the stage, next to the screen where the live visual images by artist Eleanor Meredith appeared throughout the tale. This placement was ideal to see both the BSL translation and the live drawings on the screen. 

Across the stage were the musicians with their flute, cello, violin and bass drum. The storyteller and writer, Jack Ross, was centre stage. He spoke calmly and clearly to the audience  and was especially clear for me to lipread. 

The production told the tale of a little girl who takes a journey to the deep blue sea, meeting frogs, ducks and whales. Both Jack – the narrator – and Sarah – the interpreter – used the same actions for the animals the story introduces. 

All of the songs had actions too! I found myself ribbet-ing like a frog, climbing up sails of a boat, heaving a rope and pulling silly faces. The movements were all enhanced by melodic tunes and great rhymes. 

The sound for the show was amplified by speakers that faced out to the audience, and with it being such an intimate setting the music was clear for me both audibly and physically. I was interested to know that Sinfonia Viva are actually the East Midlands only professional orchestra and have even been nominated for a Grammy. 

The translation of the musical score was outstanding, with the rhythm of each song personified perfectly by the interpreter. There were no delays, no stumbles, it was flawlessly in sync with the singer and dynamic to watch. 

At one point the interpreter had to translate the overlapping strings of a violin, depicting the tale of a sad swan. Her body language, expression and soft fluid movements captured this beautifully, even demonstrating through sign the high tones that I cannot hear. 

Noticing how mesmerised the children in the audience were and how delighted the grown ups looked (myself included) I cannot rate this show & its accessibility high enough. 

I usually find shows are either mainstream with an interpreter that doesn’t quite gel or very deaf-centred but without the sound quality for hearing people to enjoy it. But with The Boat and the Blue the interpreter became an another visual element that enhanced the whole show, and fitted in seamlessly. 

Hearing audience members also commented on how much they enjoyed the BSL translation, and I noticed the children’s gazes fixed intently on the signing too. 

When the production ended I found myself humming tunes, along with their action signs and wishing there were more shows like this I could take my children to. 

I spoke to the head of the orchestra and found that although they don’t have any other BSL shows planned, if there were any I wanted to attend I could simply email them and they’d find an interpreter for me. 

I never knew that was an option! I assumed that accessible shows only appeared on the access page of theatre brochures. But it seems that some programmers are willing to respond to requests. It’s possibly not the same for all theatres but if in doubt, ask anyway. 

To find a truly accessible family show is a rarity and to see one that is of the quality of The Boat and the Blue is even more special. 

Check out http://www.vivaorch.co.uk and see what else they’re up to. And if there’s anything else you like the look of, find out if they can provide access too. 

You never know till you ask. 

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