Juliet England: Why I’ll still attend arts events, hearing loss or not

Posted on April 3, 2017

My friend and I are Skyping (instant messaging rather than a voice call, natch) about a possible trip to London’s Globe theatre to see Othello.

Tickets cost a week’s food budget and bus fares. Of course they do. This is London, after all. Then you have to factor in dinner, travel, drinks, programme… Change from £100? Don’t be ridiculous.

“Will you be able to hear?” he types.

He has a point. I once shelled out £50 to see Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis (Star struck? Moi?) in a Molière play. I thought I knew the storyline, having read a translation in preparation, but it had been changed so much, artistic licence and all that, that I barely followed a word.

So while reading Othello (for the first time in 30 years) would undoubtedly help, it would offer no guarantee of absolute comprehension.

I also know that Stagetext does amazing work captioning theatre, musicals and the like, but it can’t be everywhere at once.

Perhaps improbably, I cover productions near where I live, reviewing them for a local arts website. I sit in the frow (that’s the front row, non-fashionistas), and get my mitts on a copy of the script in advance, by hook or by crook. I don’t always hear everything, but somehow I’ve always gained enough from the production to be able to cobble together something almost sensible.

It’s not just stage shows, either. Another friend is immensely fond of her weekend cinema trips. I am fond of her, and there’s only so much Ant’n’Dec can do to relieve the Saturday night tedium, so, more often than not, I am happy to bowl along. It’s hardly a chore. (I just hope she doesn’t suggest the movies as a preferable to talking to me.)

Yet, as I sit in the darkness while the trailers run, working my way through a vat of Mini Eggs, and enjoying the prospect of leaving Brexit-Trump-Syria, too-much-work-too-little-time behind for a couple of hours, I’m also thinking, how much am I going to hear?

Will there be accents, beards, voice-overs? Nothing wrong with any of those, but they can make the cinema-going experience more of a challenge if you have cloth for ears.

Will there be subtitles of any kind? (Mind you, the silent movie The Artist, though undeniably charming, had one spoken line. I missed it.)

Someone told me The Revenant would be fine – as ‘huge chunks’ were captioned. This was a massive lie and a cruel hoax. All the trapper characters looked the same. They all had beards – and hoods. I left utterly confused as to what the last three hours had been all about, though the bear scene was admittedly pretty impressive.

We generally adjourn to the nearest over-priced chain coffee store once the credits have rolled, like the pair of middle-aged biddies we truly are. Rock and roll. Many’s the time I’ve had to spend that valuable gossiping opportunity asking for a detailed plot breakdown and description of the relationship between the movie’s characters. (So, the blonde one, was she his friend? Oh, sister. OK.)

The cinema we go to provides precious little help. The one captioned movie a week is usually a kids’ film or some snooze-inducing ‘action-packed blockbuster’ – and offered on a Sunday lunchtime of all the inconvenient points in the week. Oh and don’t bother with the listening devices they offer. Staff take half an hour to find the wretched things, then have no idea how they work, or even if you are supposed to take your hearing aids out.

But I have no plans to stop going to films, plays, lectures or anything else any time soon. Because – because, why shouldn’t I? (Or anyone else who has a hearing loss.) I don’t love everything I see, but does anyone? Because these things are, at least in part, as much a social event as anything else. That tenner you spent on the cinema would probably have just gone on a round of drinks anyway.

And yes, of course it can be frustrating. I saw Moonlight recently, and could tell it was an amazing film, but probably heard less than 10% of it. But, while I may not get everything from a show, more often than not, I get enough. So don’t leave me out of any outings to arts events. Just let me sit in the frow. And you may have to fill me in on one or two things afterwards.

Read more of Juliet’s articles for us here. Juliet England does freelance social media and PR work for cseeker.

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