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Picture: Helen Murray


Birmingham Rep – The Door


Augmented is a brutally autobiographical, one woman show, which follows the story of the self-identifying Deaf Cyborg, Sophie Woolley. Sophie gradually lost her hearing over the course of twenty years but was eventually greenlighted for a cochlear implant, but what she could not foresee was the identity crisis that broke as someone who had experienced both hearing and deaf cultures.

Woolley’s text is unfiltered and honest, and whilst it is undeniably informative it is never a lecture as her language is colloquial and at times comedic. Combined with Rachel Bagshaw’s fast paced direction, the result is a narrative that weaves between character dialogue and poetry performances that burst with an energy refuses to be tamed.

Seventy-five minutes is quite an ask of a solo artist, but Woolley races through her personal account and presents herself as vulnerable yet confident. Woolley gains the audience’s empathy through her honesty, but moments of comedy never feel completely comfortable. As the play reaches its finale, Woolley embodies an optimistic smugness for it is her that pities us puny humans, she’s already part cyborg, you see.

Adrienne Quartly’s sound design is a great component to this piece. The soundscapes we are teased with in the beginning are foreboding warnings that remind anybody hearing just how easy it is to take ambience for granted. The distorted glitchy effects heard later on work in tandem with the cyborg thread, however disturbing moments of silence would have really worked in places.

The set was a stark square with pillars of light in four corners, whilst the back wall consisted of strips of elastic material which could be pulled and prised apart or left to settle to create one solid-looking surface. Lights changed with the mood, with some nice nostalgic glows during the past, and some harsh vibrant blues when we reached the future; the design came alive during the cyborg’s switch on but could have been more intrusive.

This performance made the best use of captioning I have seen so far, with the text not only appearing via projection, but varying in font and colour, and even becoming animated which I imagine offered so much more to a deaf audience.

Whilst Augmented was never exactly boring, there were times when full stops became commas, and both Woolley and the audience could have done with a moment to breathe. Especially given the nature of the content, some moments felt like they couldn’t land because we were already back up in the sky.

Sophie’s story is truly an interesting one and Augmented remains an extremely personal piece of theatre. It is informative without being patronising, yet individual, which is a fresh take on something focused on an underrepresented community. Runs until 11th March before continuing its tour.

Richard Scott


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