Augmented is an intimate one woman play, written and performed by Sophie Woolley, about her experience of hearing loss during her 20s.
It opens in a near future; Sophie sports a blonde bob and is dressed head-to-toe in silver. As she begins to share her story digital interference thwarts her efforts. In just over an hour (without interval), and on a sparsely decorated stage, we’re transported back to Sophie’s nine-year-old self – Harlesden, 1982.
We’re introduced to her friends, ‘the gang of six’ with whom she plays; her mother who is deaf and relies on Sophie to interpret for her. The backdrop is made up of strips of brown paper (around 7 ft in length). The captioned words (by Josh Pharo) of the play appear here as they’re spoken.
As the years pass Sophie grows up like any other child of her era, she loves to sing, to dance and listens to trip hop music. However, as she gets older, she begins to find it difficult to hear. A world often taken for granted is now closing its door, bringing with it a sense of isolation, painfully expressed as Sophie finds solace in the vibrations of passing trains.
Rachel Bagshaw directs Sophie’s personal journey with consummate ease. We never question or become distracted by leaps in time from the 80s to the 90s, to the present day.
We follow Sophie as she navigates a strangely silent world, to one where her hearing is restored through medical technology. Sophie describes her cochlear implant as being ‘switched on’ – becoming a cyborg. We’re invited to laugh and lament with her as she questions the benefits of re-joining a hearing world.
The scenes following her surgery are particularly poignant. Upon being ‘switched-on’ Sophie hears the room ‘breathe’. She later comments that being ‘switched-on’ is like an LSD trip; for example, a double-decker bus engine sounds like pixelated bleeps; the family dog scratching, sounds like jazz. A new world dawns.
Sophie is advised that the first three months after this procedure are when the brain is at its most receptive (active). She ventures further into the city, floating down the London Underground escalators, reveling in the richness and tonality of everyday existence. But being ‘switched-on’ isn’t the easy journey Sophie believed it would be, and there are genuine heart-breaking moments.
Augmented is a beautifully conceived piece that acts as a rallying call, championing good accessible theatre and the benefits of cochlear implant surgery. A must see, whatever your background.★ ★ ★ ★