Emily Howlett: What I learned from watching how shadow interpreting works, for a Christmas play in Derby

Posted on December 12, 2014

A Buxton based theatre company have joined forces with Derby LIVE for the second year running, to bring a fully accessible Christmas show to deaf and hearing families alike, at the Guildhall Theatre.

I was invited along to the technical rehearsal to learn more about the company, their ideas and background, and to eat their chocolate.

Even without the chocolate, it was a lovely, welcoming environment; technical rehearsals are generally a nightmare for cast and crew alike, but everyone was relaxed among the glittery trees, piles of presents and rather alarming array of things on sticks.

There is a LOT of wonderful, bright, festive jollop associated with this show. It was purely by chance that I ended up sitting by the box of mince pies.

Formed in 2000 by co-directors Mark Hornsby and Phil Coggins, Babbling Vagabonds seem able to turn their hand to anything; outdoor performance, touring work, school ventures and community projects.

For 2014, the company are presenting ‘Naughty Meg and the Christmas Elves’. Billed as a ‘wickedly comic Christmas tale for anyone who has ever been even the slightest bit naughty’, the show follows the story of Meg as she wreaks havoc at every opportunity, until she finds herself at the top of Santa’s naughty list. Realising she won’t receive any presents, Meg’s resulting rampage upsets the Christmas elves – and war is declared.

Shadow Interpreted perf 1

The development of ‘Naughty Meg’ has given the team a new opportunity to broaden the accessibility of their performances. Since the success of last year’s ‘The Christmas Chocolate Shop’, which featured a few performances interpreted from the side of the stage, Mark and Phil are keen to explore ways of engaging deaf audiences more fully.

As part of this, a number of performances of ‘Naughty Meg’ will be shadow interpreted by ASLI member Sarah Gatford. This involves the interpreter being on stage and engaging with the actors rather than being separate to the action. The hope is that this will allow deaf audiences to follow the story and the action simultaneously, rather than just staring at someone standing in the wings.

Sarah said; “It has been so lovely to find a company who are interested in trying out new things and improving the experience for deaf audiences. It’ been a wonderful, relaxed process, with everyone working together to find the best way forward, and the result is a great family show that deaf audiences will be able to access in a different way to the traditional side-of-stage interpreting.”

Phil Coggins, who is directing colleague Mark alongside Kitty Randle and Emma Bright in the show, added;

“We’ve done a lot of work in schools with deaf students, and it’s always been a bit frustrating that the interpreting is so separate to the performance. We really wanted to make it easier for deaf audiences to engage; the communication support should be as entertaining and interesting as the rest of the show!

“In fact, to really get some interaction between signer and actors, I wanted Sarah to fly in as an angel, but unfortunately we don’t have high wire equipment. I’ve had to settle for letting Meg kick her in the shins.

“This whole process is new to us, and to our audiences, and I really hope that people who come will give us feedback and let us know what’s working for them. We make these shows for people to enjoy, so we want to hear from them.”

I personally can’t wait to go back and watch the show (although I’ve had to promise not all my feedback will be chocolate-based). I’d love to hear from any Limping Chicken readers who are thinking of going, and to know your thoughts after, but I also would like to know wider opinions; is shadow-interpreting something that intrigues you? Have you experienced it before, and did it work well? Is it seamless or distracting? Could this be the start of great things? Are Maltesers more festive than Minstrels?

Let me know your thoughts and, in the meantime, try and stay off Santa’s naughty list. Ho Ho Ho.


  • Friday 12th December 1.30pm
  • Tuesday 16th December 10.30am
  • Saturday 20th December 2.30pm
  • Tuesday 23rd December 11.00am
  • Sunday 28th December 2.30pm

For more information see the Derby LIVE website -: www.derbylive.co.uk

By Emily Howlett. Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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