Great grandmother Pam thanks Unscene Suffolk theatre group for the visually impaired for changing her life

PUBLISHED: 10:50 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 11 October 2018

Pam Rivers of Unscene Suffolk Picture: WAYNE SAVAGE

Pam Rivers of Unscene Suffolk Picture: WAYNE SAVAGE


Unscene Suffolk, a community theatre company for adults with visual impairment, has been a life saver for founder member Pam Rivers.

Unscene Suffolk changed Pam Rivers’ life. Grief stricken by the loss of her husband, whom she cared for through his dementia; followed by a bad accident, she’d given up.

“I just sat in the chair and I think I’d still be sat there now or gone. I didn’t want to do anything,” says the 76-year-old great grandmother.

“I thought what have I got to live for really? I was diagnosed with macular degeneration, then had my driving licence taken away; that’s the end of your world isn’t it? I had a bad fall, ending up with a lung embolism so was in and out of hospital for a year. I’m lucky to be here.

“I was very active,” adds Pam, who spent time in the army and in the catering industry, as well as raising four sons. “When I went into myself like that it was like ‘oh God’.”

Pam Rivers, left, in A Zimmer of Hope Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKPam Rivers, left, in A Zimmer of Hope Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

She’s been a member of the community theatre company since it was set up by arts manager, drama and theatre practitioner Jenni Elbourne in 2013; travelling from Felixstowe with a volunteer driver from the East Suffolk Association for the Blind.

It was the ESAB who suggested Pam get involved.

“I was really isolated. I had gone into myself so thought I’ll have a go. Years ago when I was at school I was the granny in Red Riding Hood but I’ve never done anything like this before. I was bit cautious but I was welcomed very well. It’s been life saving to be honest. I’ve made really good friends and look forward to it.”

She’s appeared in 2013’s Don’t Know in The Cave at the New Wolsey Studio, as Mrs Briddle in 2014’s Fossils at Ipswich Museum, Barbara the Sheep in 2015’s Through the Magnifying Glass at the High Street Exhibition Gallery, Peggy Jones and other parts in 2016’s A Zimmer of Hope at the New Wolsey Studio and Grandma in last year’s Time Hackers which enjoyed a tour of primary schools and a run at the High Street Exhibition Gallery.

Pam Rivers in Through the Magnifying Glass Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKPam Rivers in Through the Magnifying Glass Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

“It’s always fun but I’m not very good at remembering my lines,” laughs Pam. “When I’m at home I learn all my lines and I can say them off by heart. The minute I get here, I freeze.”

Used to creative problem solving, she remembers the company hiding lines inside a pot to - during her role as a sheep - saying bah when she needed a prompt.

“I think I’m getting a little bit deaf as well now, I can’t always hear the cues to come in. Last year they kindly said ‘oh Grandma’s fell asleep I think’,” she laughs. “That would remind me.”

Being part of Unscene Suffolk has been a new lease of life for Pam.

Wayne Witney, second from left; Pam Rivers, third from left, in A Zimmer of Hope Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKWayne Witney, second from left; Pam Rivers, third from left, in A Zimmer of Hope Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

“I find it exciting and we’ve all gained confidence, it’s lovely. I’ve tried to encourage others and say ‘come on, you budding actors; life isn’t at an end when you lose your sight, there’s stuff out there for you to do’.”

The community theatre company for adults with visual impairment was founded in 2013 with support from Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and Sensing Change.

Exploring different approaches, it provides fully inclusive performing arts workshops and makes site specific and touring work that’s accessible to blind and sighted audiences. It recently piloted a series of VI-accessible singing workshops which it hopes to launch officially later this year.

Unscene Suffolk is currently funded by Santander Foundation, The Big Lottery (Awards for All) and Suffolk Community Foundation through the Joy Abbott Fund, David and Jill Simpson Fund and Suffolk Giving Fund.

There are around 14 members at present, with room for more.

Wayne Witney, has been a member since day one.

“It’s an incredible group of people. The fact you can express yourself is what I like. When I came here I was coming out of quite a deep depression, when I did this it gave me a chance to think about other things. It’s good to have my core of friends balloon and I’ve done other projects with some of them which has been a good thing too.”

The Greatest Show... That Never Happened is Unscene Suffolk’s sixth annual production.

The musical cum play which captures the spirit of music hall and old-time variety, packed with topical references and satire too.

Led by director Jenni Elbourne and devised and written by her and members of the group, co-writer Caroline Roberts said: “The group has enjoyed delving into the world of variety and all its quirks; in fact it’s been very enlightening. They have taken it all in and devised a show filled with comedy, music, dance and melodrama. The elements of family entertainment which typify the music hall style are all there, but a few surprises will keep the audience on their toes.”

For the movement aspect of the show, the group worked with innovative dance choreographer Nathan Gearing of Rationale Method.

He introduced members to his innovative and dynamic audio description techniques and led them in masterclasses on salsa, Fosse style and even a little break dancing.

The show is fully accessible to blind and sighted audiences. All performances are audio described and touch tours are available before each show. There will also be a BSL interpreted performance at 3pm on October 13.

The Greatest Show... That Never Happened is at Ipswich Town Hall, 3pm and 7pm on October 13 and 6.30pm on October 14.

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