Friday, 5 October 2012

Waterloo Sunset: London Terminus with Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic, London

*** Update 22/10/2012

Two of the locations in this post are included in the recently launched project from VocalEyes known as London Beyond Sight.  This project has 40 landmarks in London described by an audio describer with input from the celebrity who has chosen an object or landmark.  In this case, Sir Derek Jacobi has chosen the Old Vic Theatre.  He can be heard talking about the Old Vic on:

The second landmark is Hungerford Bridge which has been renamed officially as The Golden Jubilee Bridge.  This bridge was chosen by Sophie Thompson and you can hear her talk about the bridge on:

VocalEyes have also included text files in Word format with descriptions of the chosen landmarks.  These can be found on:

*** end of update
1st October 2012

This was pure whim.  I felt in need of some Scandinavian gloom and remembered that Hedda Gabler was on at the Old Vic. (  I used to go to this theatre in the 1970s and can remember seeing Anthony Quayle and Timothy West on stage.  After losing my sight I tend to visit performances of plays I know or those which have a manageable cast.  

I found the Old Vic and asked at the box office about arrangements for visually impaired people.  There is a programme for audio description but I thought I could manage Ibsen without.  I booked a ticket, 2nd row in stalls for £21 and wandered along The Cut to the Young Vic crossing the road (tactile crossing).  Chekhov’s Three Sisters is playing at the Young Vic and I got details of the audio described performance and concessions for companion.  I then had about 90 minutes to kill so went on a reconnaissance visit to Waterloo Station and the link to Waterloo East. 

The concourse in Waterloo Terminus has been brightened up by a second level walkway linked by escalators.  This is a stockbroker belt commuter station and the retail outlets reflect the wallets and taste of this group. 

I was intrigued by some metal castings outside a branch of Joules, some kind of giant animal doorstops.  There seems to be a good selection of eateries and this gives the facility for sighted commuters who can note the platform changes on the screen. 

Waterloo has a Hampton Court End and a Reading End. On arrival take care as there usually used to be major gaps in the trains due to the layout of the tracks. Exits are to the South Bank and Underground connections with Northern, Bakerloo and Jubilee lines.  I can do the Jubilee line on my own both up and down but would ask for help with the others. (A very big thanks to Raj from the Jubilee line entrance for making a phone call for me when my voice activated mobile phone refused to work.)

From the upstairs level there is a footbridge (covered) to Waterloo East.  This is one stop from Charing Cross, another London Terminus.  There are ticket gates which a Freedom Pass will open.  At this point make sure a companion using an oyster card “touches” the correct yellow post.  The platforms are denoted by letters A, B, C and a platform guide asked me where I was going and said that platform C was better as the walk to the exit at Charing Cross was shorter. 

I then had my train trip across Hungerford Bridge to Charing Cross.  I retraced my path via the Embankment to the pedestrian walkway on Hungerford Bridge and walked past the Royal Festival Hall and with only one road to cross, in the lee of commuters managed to follow the rail bridges and arches to the Waterloo Stations and back to the Old Vic.  It had been a gloomy day and the sunset was not apparent though the Kinks song lingered around in my head.

Hedda Gabler

On arrival I was greeted by front of house staff who indicated the accessible facilities (restrooms).  As I was seated in row B, we walked along the front of the stalls and the set was described briefly.  The seating is ideal for me as my peripheral vision is suited to being so near.  These seats are above the orchestral pit in the theatre.  Turning to face the circle and the gallery, the scene was described to me.  I was then taken to my seat. 

I knew about this play having studied it and listened to it on a Talking Book.  I thought it strange that there were so many laughs.  Having studied Hedda Gabler at school (aged 15) I can’t remember the laughs. Our English teacher had a Danish wife so that may have enthused his teaching.  There was quite a large “Scandinavian” percentage in the audience. 

During the break one of the ushers asked me how I was getting on. I said that I had managed fine and that the back story and actions seemed to be described.  I had got confused by the similarity of the actor playing George Tesman and the actor playing Eilert Lovborg.  It turned out that the understudy for George was playing that night. The usher told me where the ice cream sellers and bars were and the length of the interval. 

The second half proved to be a laugh a minute and though some of the acting was hammy it was enjoyable enough.  At some point Hedda (played by Sheridan Smith) burns a handwritten manuscript and I wondered how this was going to be done. Hedda moves with the manuscript from stage left to the stove on stage right and says more or less “I am burning this book in the stove”.  With lines like this, there is not much need for an audio description.

The characters seemed to be fairly one dimensional, though the malevolence of Judge Brack occasionally shines through his jokey persona.  The role of Thea Elvsted was also interesting in being more nuanced as the play progressed.  The role of Georgie (George Tesman) is usually fairly soppy and this was well played by the understudy (Christopher Jordan).  I could not, however, get 2 other characters out of my mind in the writing.  Auntie Mame (currently in my Daisy player) and the EF Benson character Georgie Pillson. 

That said, the role of Hedda was well played by Sheridan Smith. It was a very detached portrayal.  She only lives for the role of Dionysus or Bacchus to release her (with vine leaves in his hair).  The writer had failed to shoot himself in the temple, so she has to shoot herself in the correct way.    Timing is everything and as the judge was listing his “being the only rooster in the yard…”  I waited for the bang and jumped out of my seat!

On the way back to Waterloo station I was befriended by a couple on their way to the station and they asked me what I thought.  They said that the play had been adapted by Brian Friel.  It was certainly funny in parts and very entertaining though the darkness of the play seemed to be absent.  Most of the time.

Many thanks to the staff at The Old Vic for being so attentive.  Thanks also to staff at Waterloo station.

Information on audio described performances at The Old Vic can be found on:  There is an audio described performance of Hedda Gabler on 6 November, with a touch tour at 6 pm.

Also, at the Young Vic there is an audio described performance of Chekhov’s Three Sisiters on Wednesday 10th October at 7:30 pm.  (