A visually impaired arts lover describes how an Extant Touch Tour has transformed the way she experiences theatre
By Odette Battarel
On 29 April 2014 I went to the Albany Theatre in Deptford, in the east of London, to see The Chairs, a play written by Eugene Ionesco. Having never been there before, I scheduled in lots of time to get lost, but having phoned the theatre in advance to get directions I was amazed at the response: “Get out of the station, turn right, opposite the pound shop, do not go under the railway bridge, walk down until you reach an HSBC bank and then turn right…” Evidently they had been trained to give directions to people who might be unable to read a map or street names… this was all Maria's doing.
I have known Maria Oshodi and her theatre company Extant for many years, and have always loved all her theatre productions she has created for us. I saw the Putney Debate and Cabaret and found them very entertaining and of a high standard, I knew however that The Chairs was going to be more thought provoking so I was looking forwards to a great evening.
When I came to the box office I was asked if I wanted to join the touch tour. Now,up to then I had kind of resisted the touch tours and audio described shows on offer but having met with Toby from Vocaleyes many times, I keep promising him that one day I would.
I had been to touch tours at the Tate Modern and other museums but never to a show or play. I think I thought that I had enough sight left, that I could manage with my binoculars.
But I had no excuse this time, I was early and all my friends were there too ready to join the tour, so I followed them.
We came down onto the stage and were told about the characters of the play, we met the actors, we felt the costumes and the set, we went round touching the set exploring the textures, shapes and all its intricacies. We were told how various objects were made and where hidden doors where situated.
It was great fun and a great experience, and of course I found out much more than if I had only used my binoculars, instead of this feeling of giving in to the sight loss, I had a feeling of better understanding, of getting a more complete inner picture of the scene and during the play it also helped to understand what was going on.
And I wondered so why did I wait so long before experiencing a touch tour?
Was I afraid that this would mean the door to my sighted past would close a little more? Instead it felt like a door had opened up for me unto a future I could fully enjoy theatre again!