Review – Up ‘N’ Under

Up ‘N’ Under by John Godber – fingersmiths – New Wolsey Theatre till Sat 10th then touring

Inclusivity is the name of the game in theatre circles at the moment – and The New Wolsey has always been in the forefront of the drive to make theatre more accessible for the deaf and disabled audience – which of course should be applauded.

I have seen all of the co productions with Graeae Theatre Company from the early days – and the Ramps on the Moon project which seeks to integrate deaf and disabled  with able bodied  actors and ensure interpretation becomes part of the performance rather than as a side element.

However – if a production is billed as mainstream and not just aimed at deaf and disabled – accessibility should be for everyone – and not at the exclusion of the regular hearing theatre audience. And it should enhance the performance to make it as good or better than a regular mainstream event  which previous productions including The Threepenny Opera, The Government Inspector  and Reasons to be Cheerful have done. Unfortunately – the new co- production with New Wolsey Associate Company  fingersmiths has allowed their enthusiasm for accessibility to impact negatively both on the play and the enjoyment of it if you are  hearing audience member.

John Godber’s Up n Under was first staged by Hull Truck in 1984 and won the Laurence Olivier Award for best new comedy. In all his plays Godber uses minimal staging and quick fire dialogue to tell the story through strong characters – but most importantly the dialogue is key to the comedy.

The story centres on a no hope amateur sevens rugby team who are taken on by veteran coach Arthur as a bet, with his task to try and get them to win the local finals. Godber wrote it as a tribute to the Rocky films – the underdog rises through hard work and sheer determination to win through in the end. fingersmiths have taken this comedy and decided to use four deaf actors to play the boys of the sevens rugby team and  three hearing actors that can sign as well, make up the rest of the cast.

This could have worked with a mixture of clear voice overs and captions to underpin the signing used by the boys. Unfortunately the company had no clear decision about what method to use and so decided to throw every type of interpretation method at it to see which one stuck. So there is a mis mash of signing, voice overs, commentary and badly synced captions plus some dual script from the other actors on stage – all of which followed no clear pattern.

The first half was especially difficult to follow as the rapidity of the dialogue so vital to Godber’s plays was lost in the welter of interpretative methods. And it also made the play drag. This was no disparagement to the cast who put their all into it and in spite of the difficulties got their characters across. Phil (Adam Bassett) is the sensitive teacher, Frank (Matty Gurney) is the knucklehead, Steve ( Stephen Collins) the drinker and Tony (Nadeem Islam) the enthusiastic one.

Tanya Vital as Hazel and Wayne Norman as Arthur did their best to keep the pace going – but at times there was almost total silence as the four main actors signed to each other and we had to try and follow using the captions while wanting to watch the characters.

The second half was better as we got to the actual match – which being much more physical worked a whole lot better – and there were some really nice moments as the whole event was commentated from the sideline by last member of the cast William Elliott plying Arthur’s nemesis Reg – the coach of the reigning champions The Cobblers.

This was a brave and innovative idea – but for me it didn’t translate very well to stage, not for a hearing audience anyway. Inclusivity has to be for everyone – and not at the expense of any section of the audience.

Suzanne Hawkes

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