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A review about EUGENE

An accessible play.

Think of TED Talks, if you have not seen what these talks are, they are informative talks about a wide range of topics and there is always something for everyone. Basically YouTube for the curious!

The performance is accessible to those who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and deafened. I would argue that it is also accessible to those who use English as a Second Language (ESOL). The theatre company used the Difference Engine by Talking Birds.

Difference Engine Website

Information: https://differenceengine.talkingbirds.co.uk

The performance was also supported by a BSL Performance Interpreter called Andy Hesselwood who did a marvellous job.

The staff came around with instructions for the audience to connect to the Difference Engine Wifi server. This was easy enough to do for anyone who is familiar with the method or has some level of knowledge of how to work with IP addresses.

The Difference Engine is Talking Birds‘ discrete tool for making performances and events accessible to D/deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind or partially-sighted audience members by delivering captioning or audio description direct to their own mobile devices.

Talking Birds: https://differenceengine.talkingbirds.co.uk

Unfortunately for myself, I installed the Difference Engine software on my phone (Samsung S22 Ultra), loaded it up without much luck as it kept crashing. (Talking Birds, this needs looking at…..)

Thankfully the server provided a webpage which worked excellently via my web browser. This will also work on a laptop or a tablet.

The staff were very friendly and talked to me rather than at me. Which made it easier to communicate and build a rapport – I felt extremely welcomed.

Performance:

EUGENE is a curious performance about what would happen if someone gave a “Superhuman Artificial Intelligence” to control life around us. It is dark dystopian parody sci-fi story which asks the following questions:

  • What would happen if technology had power over us?
  • Would SkyNet or HAL become reality?

Hugh (performed by Daniel Nicholas) is a fascinating character; he is Father Ted, Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin / Amazon) and Elon Musk (SpaceX / Telsa) rolled into one. He talks with the audience and demonstrates how EUGENE (performed by a lit up white cube and a screen) works.

Hugh spent time showcasing the abilities of EUGENE who has a cheeky side which is shown via captions using the Difference Engine. EUGENE as a character would not be out of place in a novel if the following co-wrote it: Arthur C Clarke (2001 A Space Odyssey), Isaac Asimov (Foundation) and Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

The Difference Engine was used excellently, but there were times where Hugh would say more than what was captioned and I believe this is an opportunity to add in jokes for the audience who rely on the captions.
This has been done in the “We’ve Got Each Other” tour:

If you are curious about that performance, have a look here:

https://justbeverley.co.uk/articles/2533/weve-got-each-other-the-almost-entirely-imagined-bon-jovi-musical-to-arrive-at-hull-truck-theatre)

when they used in jokes for those who relied on Audio Descriptive and another set of in jokes for Captioning. It allowed for a personalised experience which could be related to on a personal level.

For example:

Someone deaf wouldn’t understand a sound to the same degree as someone blind and vice versa a blind person wouldn’t relate to a visual stimuli like a deaf person would.


Did I enjoy the performance? Yes, I absolutely loved it. I love my technology and it is a huge part of my life. There are times when I worry that we are becoming too reliant on technology and that we need the heed the warnings of the sci-fi writers of the past, present and future.

EUGENE (Far Left), Hugh (Centre with outrageous yellow trousers)
and the BSL Interpreter Andy (Right)

I loved the interactions between Hugh and EUGENE. How Hugh would fall apart, gather himself only for EUGENE to knock him down and cause trouble.

There were many moments of laugher and the audience enjoyed the performance.

The stage was set up almost perfectly, I have a personal preference to be diagonal to the BSL Interpreter so that everything I see is in my peripheral vision rather than spend my time missing moments doing a “Wimbledon manoeuvre”…

What is a Wimbledon Manoeuvre?

It is the movement that many deaf people do at theatre where we swivel our heads left and right trying to catch what is being said.

(It’s a real thing, I just made up the name….)

To complicate it, there was the additional fact that I had to look at my phone for the captions. That being said Daniel Nicholas (Hugh) took his time and was steady as he performed. It was not rushed, allowed for the audience to look up from their phones and follow the performance.

Would I see it again? YES, absolutely.

Was the access provision perfect? No, whatever the performance, it is hard to do it perfectly and as long as the theatre company strives to:

  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Evolve

They will go far with the remaining performances in the tour and in future performances. This theatre company DOES and I’m excited to see what they come up with next!

For more information about EUGENE, go the official website called Hu-Bris Industries:
https://www.hubris-industries.com/

The performance Dan saw was on April 28th 2022 at York Theatre Royal.

The next performances are:

You can tap/click the dates for the venue details.