Device translates theatre into 8 languages

A new device launched Thursday in London's West End translates theatre productions into any one of eight languages so foreign visitors can enjoy the show.

A new device launched Thursday in London's West End translates theatre productions into any one of eight languages so foreign visitors can enjoy the show.

Hairspray, the hit musical showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, is the first production to offer the handheld device to theatregoers.

Hairspray, which has been running in London for three years, recently announced that former Monkee Mickey Dolenz will join the cast on Feb. 2.

About one-third of London theatre tickets are bought by visitors. The handheld device is an alternative to surtitles — translated or transcribed lyrics or dialogue projected above a stage or displayed on a screen — which can be hard to see and distracting to other theatre patrons.

It has a small dark screen that displays subtitles in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese or Chinese and also in English, to help the hearing impaired. The dark screen minimizes glare that might disturb other theatregoers.

The script is translated by professional translators, instead of translation software.

A theatre staff person ensures the translations are delivered in real time — though it can be difficult to keep up with improv sections of the script, especially the ad libs by Edna Turnblad, a female Hairspray character traditionally played by a male actor.

Cambridge Consultants of Britain developed the device, called AirScript,  which operates through wireless technology. The Shaftesbury Theatre is charging £6 (about $10.50 Cdn) for use of the device.