I would like to preface this by saying that it is not a fabulous idea to go to a show that you’d like to review after a day of teaching 10-year-olds and taking a one-and-a-half-hour Uber ride that makes you extraordinarily car sick.
But I did it anyway and I am very glad because ‘From All Who Came Before’ was one of those theatre experiences that left me feeling very positive about the future of what “accessible theatre” means and what it can be.
This show told a reverse chronological story about three friends and their experiences of identity, pain, fate and loss, and how their lives intertwined around one another. It was one of those stories that set my mind off wandering and wondering about my own life, relationships and art, while I was still watching and absorbed in what was happening on stage.
The most impressive and interesting thing for me as a blind critic and lover of all things theatrical was the use of audio description. The description of the show included the following: “Within the heartbeat of its sound lies a world of Audio Description.” This was an extraordinarily exciting thing to see, when mentions of AD are usually relegated to a brief mention at the bottom of a webpage explaining that an AD performance will be offered one random Saturday afternoon.
On top of this, there was more than one Auslan interpreted performance, and all performances (not just those designated as “relaxed”) had a relaxed attitude where audiences were able to leave and return as they needed to. This made me feel a little bit better about my restless guide dog who decided that she didn’t particularly feel like sitting still and quiet that night.
There was also a tactile tour that could be arranged for any performance, which I would’ve loved to take advantage of, but simply couldn’t fit it in.
The performance started with the AD pre-show notes, which were played for the entire audience to hear. These explained some integral props and clarified some terminology that would be used in the AD throughout the show.
I assumed the voice reading the pre-show notes would be the voice we heard throughout the entire performance. But when it started, the voice being amplified around the performance space was unique and atmospheric, and it became obvious not long into the performance that the audio description was being provided by a character looking down on their beloved friends and reminiscing on memories of their time together. This disembodied voice provided visual descriptions and insights, and it was a fascinating way to provide integrated accessibility to tell a story. At no point did I feel lost or stop to wonder if I was missing any information that the sighted audience was privy to.
The use of sound was wonderful. It was riveting to watch and listen to just for the way the different characters’ movements were described and the way directionality of sound was used to indicate location and repetition.
I can’t tell you for absolute certain, but I’m almost sure that if you’d asked anyone in that theatres, sighted or not, whether they thought having integrated AD was in any way a negative experience they would have said a giant “NO”.
The experience left me feeling happy, hopeful and excited to see more theatre makers embrace this way of creating accessible work and the different ways in which they will approach it.
I hope that ‘From All Who Came Before’ was not a once off and I get to experience this joy again and again.
Co-devised and performed by Milly Cooper and Ben Jamieson
Composition by Rachel Lewindon and Samual Kreusler
Lighting design and operation by Spencer Herd
Access consultation by Sarah Houbolt