Drama Project Blog

Welcome to the final instalment of the drama project blog.

After all the months of hard work, collaboration and experimentation, Unscene Suffolk’s latest production, The Tree Dreams, was finally performed at the New Wolsey Studio. On its mini-tour of Ipswich the show was also shared at Castle Hill Community Centre and the Avenue Theatre.

The last few workshops were spent going over individual sections of the play, rehearsing the movement in sync with the audio description, and finalising costumes and props. The week before the performance we rehearsed for some full days, running the show through completely, incorporating sound and Nathan’s audio description with the help of our technical stage manager Yasmin.

Then, just two days before the performance one of the actors was taken ill, and Jenni had to find a replacement very quickly! Luckily, she was able to persuade Julian Harries, a local, professional actor to step in and, with some clever disguising of his script, Julian did a great job as our ‘real-world’ George.

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Ellen and George sit with a scrabble board on their knee. The villagers gather behind them

Show day was a very long, hot but ultimately exhilarating time in the New Wolsey Studio. A dress rehearsal and two performances meant that by the evening both cast and crew were shattered (myself included!), but it was all worth it. The feedback we received from the audience was fantastic. They enjoyed the story but especially loved the use of dynamic audio description which had been built-in, suggesting that it really enhanced the narrative and storytelling. The response was equally positive from visually impaired and sighted audience members. We captured the following responses from people as they left.

“The show, because of the audio description, became a lot more accessible. Brilliant acting, brilliantly performed this year. A really good story. And it was solid from the point of view of having the audio description over the top of everything else, able to pick up the actions a lot easier. For someone who’s visually impaired it was a brilliant, brilliant show.”

“Really enjoyed the sound effects – added an extra level – even for a sighted person.”

Members of the group too had the chance to feed back about the experience at the evaluation session which was held the week after the performances, not only about the final show but the development process as well, which is after all a huge part of what Unscene Suffolk’s workshops are about.

Many people felt that the group had created something fun yet poignant; a slightly off-the-wall story with a ‘real world’ and a ‘dream world’, lots of sheep, a monkey, a skunk, talking trees and all sorts of nursery rhyme characters. But, it also had a positive message about mental health, about looking after yourself, and about the need to talk to people and to share your worries with them. An issue which is more relevant today than perhaps it’s ever been.

The group reflected that the process of creating this show had at times been challenging. With such a flowing narrative, lots of movement and many different characters, some felt it had been harder to grasp in the early stages, but all agreed that in the final rehearsals, when the movement, audio description and dialogue all came together, there had been a ‘lightbulb’ moment and they had loved performing such a creative and collaborative show. An overriding response was the feeling of team work, as the group had to work together both physically and mentally. A huge amount of concentration was needed to create such a fluid piece of theatre, but it also allowed for more freedom of movement. This was something that director, Jenni had been keen to create, and which one actor felt had been a highlight. She explained:

“The thing I liked best is that it was so physical. As well as all the words to say, I’ve never been able to pretend to paint, or dance, and generally mess about and move on stage. It gave me a lovely sort of liberated feeling, and a new dimension. None of our plays have been that physical. I don’t know if it was the same for others but I thought so.”

Many others also suggested that the sound and audio description had given them more confidence with movement:

“I definitely liked the physical side of it, especially the dancing bit, because Nathan’s audio description really kind of opened that up to me. I’ve never been able to do it before.”

“I think it enabled us to co-ordinate those movements, because if you’ve got no vision you cannot know if you’re doing something at exactly the same time as everybody else.”

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Tree-Dwellers holding bright coloured branches spin around in a sweeping arc on a black stage

There were, as always, various issues which cropped up. Having proper theatre lighting at the New Wolsey Studio turned out to be a real benefit to those members of the group who have some vision, but in the community venues this was not available. The change in aesthetics at each venue also meant we had to adjust markings for visibility: in some places contrasting floors and furniture again assisted those with more sight, but in the studio the black floor and dark chairs made it impossible, and so these had to be marked up with fluorescent tape.

The aim to share Unscene Suffolk’s work with people who wouldn’t usually get to see it was definitely achieved. Many of the audience members at Castle Hill Community centre had never seen one of our shows, and it was especially rewarding to share our work with members of Red Rose Chain’s Avenue Community Theatre (ACT), a group for actors with a mix of disabilities, learning difficulties and other issues. We had a great chat with them after the performance and are looking forward to seeing some of their work in the future.

All in all the show was a great success, and despite issues like a last minute cast change, everyone pulled together to make it happen. (I’m happy to report by the way that group member Mark is back on his feet now and feeling much better). It’s been so interesting to watch the production develop from initial ideas to final show, and even better to be a part of it.

Unscene Suffolk is on its Summer break now, but we’ll be back in October to start the process all over again. If you fancy joining us on our next adventure you can find more information on our workshops here, or keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Caroline Roberts
Workshop Assistant

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Quiz Night Fundraiser & Autumn Raffle

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Quiz Night in aid of Unscene Suffolk
Friday 4th October 2019 @ 8pm
Claydon and Barham Community Centre, Church Lane, Claydon, IP6 0EG
£5 per person, teams of up to 6 people
Book as a team or we can team you up on the night for smaller groups and individuals.
To reserve your place please email quiz@unscenesuffolk.co.uk or call Marianna on 07799 784895

All proceeds from this event will be put towards our work providing accessible workshops and performance opportunities for visually impaired people.

Can’t make it but still want to help us with fundraising?

We are selling raffle tickets for our Prize Draw which will take place at the Quiz Night. CASH prizes of up to £100 are available. If you would like to purchase some tickets, or sell some on our behalf, please contact Marianna using the details above.

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Radio 4 In Touch

Unscene Suffolk featured on Radio 4’s In Touch programme on 16 July 2019

Reporter Toby Davey visited our rehearsals for The Tree of Dreams and interviewed cast members Wayne Witney and Audio Describer Nathan Geering to gain an insight into the unique form of description that was used as part of this production. The report also includes audience feedback from visually impaired people who came to the show.

Feature starts at 11 mins 25s into the programme which can be found at the link below.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006sp2

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Drama Project Blog

Welcome to the third instalment of Unscene Suffolk’s Drama Project Blog.

Denise and Ann rehearsing for The Tree of Dreams. In the background, the chorus hold prototype branch props in the air.

Denise and Ann rehearsing for The Tree of Dreams. In the background, the chorus hold prototype branch props in the air. Credit Daniel McKee

This is the latest instalment of my drama project blog which aims to offer an insight into how an Unscene Suffolk production develops from first ideas to final performance.

It’s been a little while since the last blog and we’ve been very busy. Things have moved along quite rapidly (as they often do at this stage of the production process) and we now have finalised characters, script, and music!

Jenni developed her concept of ‘dreams as metaphor for our real-life fears’ into a story ‘The Tree of Dreams’ about a retired couple, Ellen and George, coping with the strains, and often stresses, of growing old and learning to accept change. In Ellen’s dreams she meets some strange yet familiar characters who need her help to save their beloved tree. George meanwhile is left to worry about Ellen’s health and tries to get into her dreams to rescue her. Some of the characters devised in earlier workshops such as Little Bo Peep, Maggie Pie and Little Boy Blue have been incorporated, and a clever divide between the ‘real’ and the ‘dream’ world allows for two sets of actors to play Ellen and George. The rest of the cast take on multiple roles as nursery rhyme characters, animals and the tree itself.

With the script mainly in place, Jenni and Nathan of Rationale Method have been working through the show as we ‘block’ the action, when we decide how each scene will look and where everyone will be on the stage. During this process the dynamic audio description has been developed and the script has evolved with it. In other words, the cast perform the dialogue, and the sound effects are created to work best with the movement of each scene, then the audio description is incorporated at the right place to enhance the audience’s comprehension and create the richest visual imagery possible. It’s fascinating to watch it develop and come together, and this time I’m the other side of the stage as Jenni has involved me and another helper in the action.

Along with the script and audio description, more music has been added. The wonderful Pat Whymark, a writer and musician who worked with the group on their first production several years ago, has returned to get involved again. Jenni has been busy providing audio tracks to people and there are even some lovely harmonies. Pat has also added a tango vibe to some of the music and Nathan took this as a cue to get ‘dream’ Ellen and George dancing!

The design of the show is also coming together as our set designer, Maia, has been working hard creating some wonderful aesthetic and tactile branches, which not only look amazing but feel realistic too. Danuta our costume designer is putting together an array of ‘tree-like’ colours and patterns for the ensemble, and creating simple and effective characters through representative pieces: a monkey in a suit, a punk skunk and ‘Lady Washalot’.

Nathan Geering with cast members rehearsing 'The Tree of Dreams''. Credit Daniel McKee

Nathan Geering with cast members rehearsing ‘The Tree of Dreams”. Credit Daniel McKee

A few weeks ago we had a visit from Daniel McKee who filmed one of our workshops with Nathan Geering as part of a documentary he is making for the “I’m Here, Where Are You?” festival at Cambridge Junction. The two-day festival was a celebration of disability arts featuring nationally and internationally renowned acts. Some of the cast attended the Symposium event to perform an extract of ‘The Tree of Dreams’ and to share the group’s work alongside other fantastic inclusive and disability arts projects from across East Anglia. The symposium was attended by arts professionals and funders from across the region and helped us to raise our profile too.

Those that were able to attend felt it had been a really good experience. Jenni suggested it allowed the group to “put something in front of an audience, get over some of our nerves and hear their enthusiastic feedback and interest in our process.” Our newest participant, Ann, was quite overwhelmed by the experience as she had never performed before, but everybody rallied round her and she gave a fantastic performance. I caught up with her at the last workshop and she explained:

It was my first ever time acting in front of an audience and I was actually so terrified and I didn’t think I could go on, my mind went blank. I had loads of support from the rest of the cast encouraging me to go ahead and do it, which I did. Afterwards I was so elated I was buzzing. I felt really good that I’d gone ahead and done it in front of an audience for the first time ever. So thanks to all my cast and the support I had on that day. Now I’m looking forward to doing the production in July

With this short performance under their belt, and every scene now ‘blocked’’, the group is going into the final rehearsal phase of strengthening characters, brushing up on movement and, most important of all, learning their lines!

As the production starts to look like a real show we’re having some longer rehearsals and extra days. Everyone is working very hard and the performances are looking good. Our production dates are set now for Saturday 6th July at the New Wolsey Studio, and two opportunities to share the group’s work with the community at the Avenue Theatre on 9th July and at the Castle Hill Community Centre on 10th July – our very own mini-tour!

We’ve had a week off for the half term but it’s back to business this Thursday. I’ll continue to keep you posted as the performances loom ever closer!

Caroline Roberts

Workshop Assistant

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The Tree of Dreams

Unscene Suffolk presents

The Tree of Dreams

A beatbox-infused collaboration with Rationale Method

 

 

Our 2019 Drama Project was an innovative collaboration with Rationale Method, combining audio description with beatboxing sound effects!

Here’s what the audience thought:

“It was absolutely fabulous. Filled with laughter – such an enjoyable evening”

“Outstanding. Brilliant show.”

“I’m severely sight impaired and I thought it was absolutely brilliant and it was so nice not to have to the headphones on. It was really impressive. (the AD) was explained to me at the touch tour and I just can’t say how good it was, it was really, really impressive. Much better (than other audio described shows I have seen). I liked the way the cast also joined in the audio description.”

“I’ve seen every show you’ve ever done and this one was just amazing!”

Performances took place on:

Saturday 6 July 2019 3.30pm and 7pm 
New Wolsey Studio, St George’s Street, Ipswich, IP1 3NF
Tuesday 9th July – community performance at Red Rose Chain
Wednesday 10th July at 7pm, Castle Hill Community Centre

SHOW INFORMATION

Ellen and George have always been happy, and slept soundly. But life is getting on top of Ellen. Her world is turning upside down, and her dreams are filled with sinister sheep and thieving magpies. “Someone’s been neglecting their responsibilities. The woodcutter is coming, and people aren’t happy.”

The Tree of Dreams is a story about expectations, reality, fantasy and family, devised by Ipswich’s resident company of visually impaired people, with dynamic Audio Description by the internationally renowned Rationale Method, using beatboxing sound effects to heighten the experience for both blind and sighted audiences.

This is an amateur production presented as part of the New Wolsey’s annual Open Season

ACCESS INFORMATION

The show has built-in audio description in the script, so you won’t need a headset for this performance.
However, we are inviting any visually impaired audience members for a touch tour immediately before the show. If you’d like to attend this, please be at the venue 20 minutes before the performance, and we’ll let you in first so you can see and touch some of the props and costumes up close before the show starts.

Funded by Arts Council England and the Foyle Foundation. Supported by the New Wolsey Theatre and Sensing Change.

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Drama Project Blog

Welcome to the second instalment of Unscene Suffolk’s project blog!

Welcome to the second instalment of my drama project blog; giving an inside view, as Workshop Assistant, into how an Unscene Suffolk production develops from initial idea to full-blown performance.

After a restful Christmas break it’s been good to see everyone again. Our trip to the pantomime at the New Wolsey Theatre was a wonderful treat, and now the group is hard at work putting together a show of its own, although perhaps with slightly fewer false eyelashes and definitely no pantomime horse.

The first few workshops of the year have seen significant developments, and the play is really beginning to take shape. We had an enthusiastic new member join (and return the following week!), which is fantastic, and there was another addition to the group as one of the existing participants brought her newly acquired guide dog. He was a little unsettled at first (the dog, not the new member) but has soon got used to the strange noises and movements around the room from our warm up games and improvisations.

Drama group members with Audio Describer Nathan Geering

Carrying on the original idea of a tree as a central focus, Jenni revealed that the name of the show – which has to be decided in January in order to make it into the New Wolsey Theatre’s Open Season publicity material – is The Tree of Dreams. Pursuing this theme, the group improvised some scenes in groups, considering the ‘family’ relationship between their characters in the scenario of the impending destruction of their tree. Some lovely animal characters came out of this exercise: Ray Ven, Maggie Pie, Mrs Crow and Granny giraffe, as well as a skunk, a mouse and a horse. It was brilliant to see such great diversity within a family unit. Jenni then talked to the group about her story ideas and the concept of dreams as metaphor for the fears we have in real life, and how this could be explored as a narrative between a husband and wife in later years. The group discussed the idea and the themes of life, love, illness and death, and whether it’s always necessary to have a happy ending.

To this end the group then explored nursery rhymes and their narratives, and what would happen if the traditional happy ending didn’t occur, or something completely unexpected happened. What if Baa Baa Black sheep didn’t have any wool because aliens had come down and sheared it all off? What if Mary didn’t want her little lamb to follow her around and he got left behind and injured in a road accident? And what if Little Bo Peep just couldn’t find her sheep (even on the FindMySheep app), because they’d escaped to the local pub and paid for their drinks on a ‘baaa-claycard’? These and other (dreadful) puns were the source of much hilarity. Jenni also introduced the group to a newly penned song, ‘The Tree of Dreams’, and everyone (helpers included!) had a first try at learning it, accompanied by Jenni on the ukulele.

Another great step forward in the devising process was the group’s first session with Nathan Geering of Rationale Method. Nathan, who comes from Ipswich originally, has formulated a dynamic approach to audio description (AD) which uses vocal sound effects (including beatboxing) to create soundscapes which heighten the experience for both blind and sighted audiences. He is working with Unscene Suffolk to integrate his approach as part of the creative process. I managed to ply Nathan with chocolate biscuits in our tea break, and ask him to explain a bit about the project. He said: “I’m very excited to be working with Unscene Suffolk on this production. We’re able to work right from the project’s conception and it’s a real collaborative process, not only with myself and Jenni, but also with the visually impaired participants. What’s great is we can actually get creative with the audio description accessibility, and how the means of accessibility can be used as a valuable tool within the creative process. It goes beyond being something that’s just accessible to something that everyone can enjoy on every single level. This is going to be amazing in terms of how you invent access from a production’s inception, and I’m really excited about that”.

Nathan began the session with some character work; asking the group to consider how their character might walk, talk and stand, and how they would express different emotions physically. He then asked them to differentiate between the physicality of the human characters they may portray in the ‘real’ world and the animal character they could play within a dream. Next Nathan used sounds to accompany movement as a way for the characters to transition between one world and the other. It was fascinating to see how a specific sound designated how long the movement would take, and allowed people to synchronise perfectly with one another. One of the participants turns out to be an amazing beat boxer and so created some of the sounds himself. As a final task, Nathan used the sounds to get all members of the group to transition from their human physicality in a ‘scene’, to form the shape of a tree in the dream world. The device was so effective and I caught a first glimpse of how the dynamic audio description works, and how the show might look. Very exciting and I can’t wait to see how the AD, and the show, will come together.

We’re taking a week off for the half term now while Jenni works on the script, but we’ll be back at the end of February and raring to go!

Caroline Roberts
Workshop Assistant

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Drama Project Blog

Welcome to Unscene Suffolk’s new project blog!

Denise, Wayne, Andy and Dave explore staging possibilities. Each stands behind the other in a line holding a rope attached to a central post, like a maypole, which Jenni and Steph are holding.

Denise, Wayne, Andy and Dave explore creative staging possibilities in the rehearsal room.

No sooner has the dust settled on our 2018 production than we’re back in the swing, and this time we thought it would be a great idea to give you an inside view on what actually happens in our Thursday afternoon drama workshops. As Unscene Suffolk’s Workshop Assistant I get to watch all aspects of the production evolve, from initial ideas to the final show, so I thought I’d share my perspective from the first few workshops of the project.

After a couple of weeks off to recover, and a lovely session of reflection and feedback, ideas for the next production are already flowing. With the last show very much based in the world of theatre and a ‘play within a play’ (very meta!) (see our Greatest Show pics), Jenni, Unscene Suffolk’s director, suggested a more pastoral theme for the next production.

Throwing out some key words, such as nature, animals and enchantment provoked an enthusiastic response and lots of reminiscences about stories remembered from childhood. These ranged from The Enchanted Wood and the Faraway Tree, The Insect Play and Wind in the Willows, to The Minpins, Captain Beaky and James and the Giant Peach. Some of these were known to everyone but some were new to others, including myself. There was some discussion about whether an existing work could be adapted, so the group set Jenni a research task to find out more about them, even Captain Beaky, which if I remember right was a pop song!

The group also explored the possibilities for incorporating mythical or magical beasts or those that are now extinct; a great idea for traditional ‘moral’ storytelling. Bats were thrown into the mix (not literally) and this led on to talk about echo-location – something which some of the group participated in previously.

Jenni talked about where the group might perform the show, and the idea of taking the work out to an audience for as many people to see as possible. The group had some fantastic ideas: community halls and groups, schools, country fairs, festivals, Latitude even got mentioned. So many possibilities to consider, even while the show is still being devised, not to mention considerations around staging, accessibility and how to create a visually engaging set design. Venues have to be booked way in advance so the challenge is often to find the right space which will accommodate our set, even before we know what it’s going to look like.

The group then focused on storytelling and creating animal characters; participating in some games that promoted animal characterisation (and lots of laughs!). They then had a go at being a character but telling their story in the third person, which is actually a lot harder than you think! They then tried to feed this in to the semi-improvised sharing of some of Kipling’s ‘Just So’ stories, which they had been workshopping. It was really interesting to see how one group had used simple sound effects and movements to portray certain animals so distinctly.

The following week the members of Unscene Suffolk welcomed a new participant to the group; offering great insights about the workshops and some reassurance that even though many of them were daunted at first, they all enjoyed performing on stage and being part of a great bunch. Myself and the helpers reassured that there are always tea and biscuits on hand! We then shared a short comedy script which one member of the group had written: a comedy dialogue between three sheep. Thus the idea of farm animals entered the frame and got a positive response – another option to consider.

Something Jenni wanted to explore was the potential staging of the piece with a central focal point and multi-purpose ropes, or strands. So, I dutifully raided the garage for my children’s swing ball set (you know, one of those things with a base and a post and a ball attached so you can bat it around to each other). A set of ropes were attached to the top of the post and the group explored the movement, interaction and accessibility which the ropes allowed them. Through improvisation the post and ropes became a maypole, a flagpole, or tree with branches or jungle vines. Using sound effects and movement the branches shook, the wind blew and torrents of water flowed down from the tree. Working in pairs, the group imagined a spider’s web, a washing line, a kite or sailboat. The ropes became an emergency cord, a measuring device, a snake and even hair extensions! One person became a puppeteer using the ropes as his strings.

The swing ball survived (just), but we all agreed that if we go ahead with the idea, a pole will need to be safely and securely weighted to the ground! Tons of great ideas came out of the exercise and got everyone, especially Jenni, thinking. It also helped us to consider the challenges the group faces in terms of accessibility and freedom of movement around a performance space, something the group is always trying to develop and improve with each production.

We’re on a break now until January, but I know that everyone’s minds will be whirring away on ideas and possibilities over Christmas. I can’t wait to come back in the New Year to find out where the project is headed next and how it will develop. I will keep you posted!

Caroline Roberts
Workshop Assistant

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Integrated Access: Is it working? (2018)

In January 2018 Unscene Suffolk members took part in a Focus Group as part of a research project conducted by Extant, Britain’s leading professional performing arts company of visually impaired people. We were asked about our experiences of Audio Description as audiences, performers and describers. The Focus Group was referenced in the final report by researchers Louise Fryer and Amelia Cavallo, and at a special event at University College London where the results were presented.

Below are links to the presentation video and report documents.

Presentation event 

Extant_Integrated_Access_Report_2018_Abridged_Version

Extant_Integrated_Access_Report_2018_Full_Length

 

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The Greatest Show… that Never Happened (2018)

Unscene Suffolk presents: The Greatest Show… that Never Happened

Click here to read our full project report

Production photos by Lucy Taylor Photography

The show took place at Ipswich Town Hall on Saturday 13th Sunday 14th October 2018

The_Greatest_Show_That_Never_Happened_A3_Poster

Welcome to the Cornhill Music Hall, where a dazzling spectacle of music,
movement, magic and melodrama is billed for your entertainment, but
unexpected events threaten to derail the show!

Will disaster be averted…? Will Sue get sawn in half? Why didn’t the
psychic predict all of this?

Prepare to be amused, astonished and a little bit miffed as Unscene
Suffolk’s company of visually impaired actors celebrates old-time variety
in this light-hearted musical play for blind and sighted audiences.

Book online
or call 01473 433100

Tickets £12.00 /  Concessions £6.00
Concession rate includes disabled people/carers and students/under 18’s
(A booking fee of £1.00 per ticket is included in these prices)

All performances audio described, with touch tours beginning 15 minutes
before the show. Please inform the box office when booking if you would
like to use Audio Description or attend a touch tour. Guide dogs are welcome in the auditorium.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PRE-SHOW AUDIO DESCRIPTION NOTES

BSL interpreted performance 3pm 13 Oct

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: If you have purchased tickets in advance, your tickets will be available from the Town Hall main entrance. To purchase tickets on the day, you can buy them from the Corn Exchange box office before meeting at the Town Hall main entrance to enjoy the show

An amateur production funded by The Big Lottery and Suffolk Community
Foundation through Joy Abbott Fund, David and Jill Simpson Fund and Suffolk
Giving Fund.

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Time Hackers (2017)

Our first ever tour was a huge success. Time Hackers was performed at three primary schools followed by two public shows in the HEG. Photographs by Mike Kwasniak.

Four cousins ignore their Grandma’s warning about the old games console in the spare room, and find themselves sucked into a virtual world full of curious characters and perplexing problems. Suitable for ages 7+.

Primary Schools tour 12-14 July 2017

Public performances:
15 July at 1.30 and 3.30pm,
High Street Exhibition Gallery,
Ipswich, IP1 3QH

Time Hackers A3 poster.jpg

All performances audio described, with touch tours beginning 15 minutes before the show.

We are grateful to have received funding from Arts Council England and Suffolk Community Foundation through David and Jill Simpson Fund and De La Rue Family Fund towards this project. An amateur production as part of The New Wolsey Theatre’s Open Season.

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