Rhiannon Lowe's picture


Non Welsh speaker, Elaine Paton, went to Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru s production of Henrik Ibsen s The Lady from the Sea, to try out the translation app, Sibrwd.

Last year, returning to live in my native home of Wales after a 35 yr gap living in Australia, one of the first things I noticed as I walked around Cardiff, was the fluency of the Welsh language flooding my ears. Growing up in the early 60s, Welsh was a foreign language rarely heard out and about on the streets of Cardiff. Even my friends had 'gone Welsh', and staying with them as a guest provided some entertaining 'Lost in Translation' moments. I vowed to learn the language and a year later, much to my shame, I haven t got round to it.

Theatr Genedlaethol s posters for Y Fenyw Ddaeth o r M r at the Sherman Theatre, looked enticing but I felt there was little point in my attending, as I wouldn t understand a word of it. So I was thrilled when CCQ asked me to go along and get apped up with Sibrwd.

Sibrwd is a smartphone app thatwhispers in your ear and helps guide non-Welsh speakers through the performance. The pre-show instructions were to take earphones and to download the app before arriving at the Sherman. Not only am I inept at Welsh however, I also experience severe allergic reactions to downloading anything remotely related to apps. Consequently, I arrived at the Sherman, flustered, thinking I would sit throughout unable to understand what was going on. Much to my relief technical assistance was at hand. A wonderfully patient and persistent man attempted to download Sibrwd to my phone, which sadly like myself also resists anything technically challenging. With minutes to spare though, I was rescued by the offer of an ipod, all plugged in and ready to go; Theatr Genedlaethol had wisely anticipated the possibility of technical hitches for the less savvy audience members, and had a few ipods on loan.

All plugged in, I sat down still feeling a bit anxious that I would not know how to operate the app. Then, suddenly, as if by magic, a gentle voice started to whisper in my ear just as the house lights dimmed and the first characters came on stage. And, for the rest of the show, just as I started to wonder what was happening on stage, the soothing narration gave me enough information to keep up with the plot whilst not interfering with the performance. I slowly relaxed, trusted the technology and enjoyed listening to the undulating Welsh language, and for the rest of the evening I didn t have to touch a button, turn anything on or off and just enjoyed Sibrwd as my guide.

I am familiar with the story of the play, and I wonder for audience members who weren t if perhaps they needed a little more information. Even knowing the bones of the story, I could have done with a bit more narration. Moreover, if Theatr Genedlaethol and the Sherman want to encourage more non-Welsh speaking audiences to Welsh language performances, then perhaps it would help heighten the uptake still more if there were English versions of the paper program. I was frustrated not being able to read the lengthy notes which I imagine talked about the process of translating Ibsen s The Lady from the Sea into Welsh. For example, it wasn t until after I had seen the show that I discovered the production was set in Pembrokeshire.

However, as regards the new app, to achieve the balance of Sibrwd not taking over the performance is a challenge, and all in all, the Sibrwd experience was seamless and has the real potential for further development in engaging both Welsh and non Welsh speaking audiences.

Sibrwd has been researched and developed by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Galactig with the support of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Wales - Nesta, Arts & Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council of Wales.