I began to lose my hearing in my late teens while reading Law at Oxford. “Reading” law was what I increasingly did as lectures, classes and tutorials became ever more of a trial (or charade) for me.
It is strange to recall that two of my best university lecturers, upon whose measured and precise words I’d so desperately hung, were blind from birth. Each was a consummate performer. One, Sir Rupert Cross, would instinctively sense, as his fingertips caressed his Braille, when he’d dwelt on a point too long. He’d flick open the glass to his wristwatch, feel the hands and say, with the trace of a smile, “we’d better press on”!
Some 40 years (of regular, if bitter-sweet, theatre-going) on, it now matters little that the beauty I found in the voices of the likes of Paul Scofield and Vanessa Redgrave for me has long since become truly incomparable. The new star for me (in a vital supporting role) whose performances I dare not miss is Stagetext.
Being profoundly deaf, I had long grown wearied, if never wholly disheartened, by encouragement that a combination of best stalls seats, headsets, new loop systems and the infamous “T” switch would – perhaps just this time – allow me to capture the magic of special words and challenging or moving ideas and effects all being skilfully delivered within the unique atmosphere of an auditorium.
Increasingly over the last 20 years I had grown dependent upon following my own text on my lap by discreet torchlight. All too often my joy at being able to follow the text would come at a high price. I would miss most of what was happening on stage. I would all too regularly attract a neighbour’s cutting barb of “put that damn phone away!”
Instantaneous pocket-sized communication via satellite across oceans may now cease to arouse wonder. For me, however, wonder is being aroused and recreated across the footlights by Stagetext bringing, in a way as was managed in Oxford forty years ago, the science of communication to serve the art of communication. A fast link to Birmingham may still be 20 years away, but let us celebrate that we have one already to Shakespeare, Shaw and Stoppard and to their many worthy successors. Their words rarely fail to deliver. There is no reason now for any failure in their delivery.