British Sign Language Access at The Sick of the Fringe London

In February, we were honored to work with The Sick of the Fringe and Love Language Ltd to provide BSL access for a 3 day festival at the Wellcome Collection. 

Over 20 events were BSL interpreted, with artists including Le Gateau Chocolat, Daniel Oliver, Brigitte Aphrodite, Jess Thom and many more welcoming the opportunity to work with skilled theatrical sign language interpreters. 

 Lynn Ruth Miller in The Fringe is Turning 70! Interpreted by Naomi Bottrill Image Manuel Vason

Lynn Ruth Miller in The Fringe is Turning 70! Interpreted by Naomi Bottrill Image Manuel Vason

BBC See Hear host Maab Adam attended the event, and wrote the following review:

When I heard about The Sick of the Fringe weekend festival in London I couldn't wait to go. I love to attend interesting and fun events like this, especially when there is BSL access to all the information (knowledge is power!) I hoped it would be interesting and that I'd get the chance to meet some new faces and enjoy watching, learning, reflecting, and participating through art, theatre and talks. I can truly say, I was not disappointed!

The festival was held near Euston, across four venues. The main venue was The Wellcome Collection. I went on the Saturday and when I looked at the brochure I found it hard to pick which events to see, as there were so many and some overlapped. I decided to go to an event called "We Are All Going to Die!". I was drawn to this because death is an inevitable part of everyone's life, and I was interested to know more about how people cope differently with the death of a loved one. It was really insightful. We were shown video clips of real-life deaths and people dying. A lot of people only ever see death hammed up for the camera in films and on TV, over the top and trivialised. Watching these videos and hearing the discussion over the real experience of death was eye opening, and felt human and connective. I recognised the interpreter at this event, Kam Deo, from his BSL news page on Facebook. He interpreted the event sensitively and clearly, and through this I was able to really be involved in what what going on.

I chose the next event based purely on it’s fantastic name - “I’ve Got A Problem With My Thingy”. I assumed (like many of you might too!) that it had to do with a man’s….private area. I convinced my friend to come along with me because I am interested in health and how bodies work (yes, that’s really why I wanted to go!) I was so confident in my assumption about the content of the performance that when the performer, Malachi, asked the audience what we thought the show was about, I raised my hand and said “Private parts!”

It turns out it wasn’t that at all. It was actually to do with not being able to find the right words to communicate what you want to say. I’ll admit, at first I was a little disappointed, but I did admire the clever marketing on his part to get us all to come along! However, I soon forgot that when I became caught up in the performer’s fascinating life story. Malachi grew up with a strong grasp on language, reading classic books and poetry, admired for his prowess when it came to expressing himself through speech or writing. However, after a bike accident in which he sustained a brain injury, he lost the ability to speak. He had to relearn how to communicate through spoken language.

As he told his story, I couldn’t help but think about the concept of “jinxing” - he had been so confident about and proud of his ability with language, it was almost like he had jinxed himself. I felt really sorry for him, but despite the loss of these skills, he is aware he is lucky to be alive after such a serious accident. It is brave of him to share his story so honestly. The interpreter, Darren Townsend-Handscomb, did justice to Malachi’s story and matched his delivery. They had a very good dynamic.

We had to rush out early - saying thank you to the lovely Malachi - in order to get to another venue to another performance called “Gutted”. Luckily it was very easy to get to Camden People’s Theatre from the Wellcome Collection - although we had trouble figuring out exactly where the entrance is to the theatre!

I met up with more of my friends and we saw the interpreter, Naomi Bottrill, ready for the performance. I had to ask some hearing people to move from the front row so that we could see Naomi’s interpretation easily. They were very accommodating and moved seats without any trouble at all. The atmosphere felt very inclusive and friendly.

“Gutted” was completely different to the two events we had been to previously. This performance was all about shit! And food! The performer, Liz Richardson, talked about her problems with her stomach and digestion, as she covered herself in a variety of sauces, and offered pieces of cake to the audience. She asked some members of the audience to get involved and read from a script with her on stage. The show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, so strange and unique! I felt really connected to the performer because she really involved the audience.

Naomi interpreted this piece with immense skill and vigour, convey all the nitty-gritty details with enthusiasm and complimenting Liz’s performance with a visual display of what was being described. It was so compelling to watch!

Overall I really enjoyed the day at the festival, absorbing a lot of new information and interesting performances. Since then, I’ve been telling my friends all about what I learned! Some of them are very disappointed they couldn’t make it and hope to come with me next time. A big thank you to the theatre company The DH Ensemble who co-ordinated the Deaf access at the festival, and to Love Language who provided many of the BSL-English interpreters.

 Daniel Oliver in Weird Seance. Interpreter Kyra Pollitt. Image by Manuel Vason.

Daniel Oliver in Weird Seance. Interpreter Kyra Pollitt. Image by Manuel Vason.

 Starring Your Pain panel discussion interpreted by Kam Deo. Image by Manuel Vason.

Starring Your Pain panel discussion interpreted by Kam Deo. Image by Manuel Vason.