Accessible arts and events at IF:MK 2023 - Destination Milton Keynes
Accessible arts and events at IF:MK 2023

Accessible arts and events at IF:MK 2023

Access in the widest sense has always been at the heart of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival. Since 2010 it has been presenting work, much of it free or deliberately low cost, in unexpected places and spaces in the city and beyond.

This year’s Festival, running from 21 to 30 July, also has a series of accessible events including BSL and audio-described performances, VocalEyes Audio Described Guided Touch Tours, BSL Tours led by a Deaf Guide and a BSL Workshop which is free for d/Deaf audiences.

Festival Director, Monica Ferguson, says: “Milton Keynes is a modern city designed with accessibility in mind and we have always tried to embed that thinking in our Festival programming. Thanks to our inclusion partner, Milton Keynes Community Foundation, and support from the Syder Foundation we are extending our access initiatives across a range of events as well as presenting performances by d/Deaf and disabled artists.”

Vocal Eyes Audio Described Guided Touch Tour for Blind and Visually Impaired Visitors, Friday 21 July,11.30am-1pm
The tour gives live verbal commentary describing the visual elements of Rebecca Louise Law’s breathtaking installation The Place Between – an epic hanging garden inside the iconic MK shopping centre, centre:mk.  Created from over 200,000 dried flowers and plant life, visitors will be invited to walk through installation and experience the immersive soundscapes revealing the secret life of plants by sound artist Jason Singh. Trigger’s Teabreak, a transportive audio piece and live dance work then takes the audience through the history and rituals of tea with chai and peppermint tea served from the beautifully hand-painted tuk-tuk.

Vocal Eyes Audio Described Guided Touch Tour for Blind and Visually Impaired Visitors, Saturday 22 July, 10.15am – 1.45pm
Particularly designed for families with visually-impaired children and young people this tour takes in visits to De Machienerie’s Carnivale, Gobbledegook’s Ear Trumpet and Captain Boomer Collective’s Pasture with Cows.
A wondrous fantasy world of ecological wonder, Carnivale is an ingenious, interactive ‘fairground village.’ It is full of interactive mechanical animals and curiosities handcrafted from recycled materials which has its UK premiere at the Festival. Gobbledegook Theatre’s Ear Trumpet invites you to delight in the secret sounds beneath your feat. Captain Boomer Collective’s Pasture with Cows, sees real-life cows – referencing the concrete cows for which Milton Keynes is famed – graze within an outsized gilt picture frame that serves as seating for the audience to take in the pastoral scene and soundtrack.

BSL Tour led by Deaf Guide John Wilson, Saturday 22 July, 12.30pm – 3pm
This tour includes visits to Captain Boomer’s Pasture with Cows, Rebecca Louise Law’s The Place Between and Gijs Van Bon’s computer sandwriter Blom which draws pictures on the ground for people to fill in with coloured sand. John Wilson is an experienced Deaf Guide with a reputation for presenting informative and fun BSL tours in museums, historic settings and art galleries all over the country including The Cutty Sark and The Barbican.

BSL Interpretation of the World Premiere of Forever? performed by Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, Saturday 22 July, 8pm
Paul Whittaker will interpret the premiere of one of the Festival’s highlight events, Forever? – a new orchestral and choral commission for voice and chamber ensemble. A contemporary response to the globally renowned hymn Amazing Grace, Forever? is a collaboration between composer Roderick Williams and poet Rommi Smith who asked people what the hymn meant to them to create deeply moving poem-songs. It will be performed by Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, part of Europe’s first majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra with the MK Sweet Sounds Choir.

Paul Whittaker has been profoundly deaf all his life, yet pursued a career as a musican.  He founded ‘Music and the Deaf’, a charity to help deaf people enjoy music and has been a regular sign language interpreter in the West End on ,many musicals including Phantom of The Opera, Les Miserables and West Side Story.  He also gave the first signed BBC Prom – Sondheim at 80 with performers such as Judi Dench and Bryn Terfel.

BSL Interpretation of The Promise by Handpicked Productions Sunday 30 July, 1pm and 4pm
Inspired by the much-loved children’s story by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin, The Promise tells the story of a lost girl who finds herself. Part opera, part environmental event, it encourages its audience to come together to take personal and collective action on the climate crisis.

The cast includes Mezzo-Soprano Bethan Langford who performed the role of Maria Theresia von Paradis in Graeae Theatre Company’s award-winning production of The Paradis Files commissioned for the Festival and touring nationally in 2022.  Bethan also made her role debut with English National Opera in 2022, has performed at the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne Festival Opera.  She is a proud past recipient of the Elizabeth Eagle-Bott Award for visually impaired musicians from the RNIB, and continues to champion the work of disabled musicians in the industry.

BSL Workshop by Handpicked Productions, Friday 28 July, 1.30pm – 3pm
A free workshop for d/Deaf audiences explores the themes of The Promise and provides an opportunity to learn some of the songs and explore puppetry used in the show. The workshop must be booked in advance at the same time as tickets for the performance.

VocalEyes Pre-Show Touch tour and Audio Description for Blind and Visually Impaired Visitors to Place des Anges by Gratte Ciel, Saturday 29 July, 8.45pm – 9.15pm
There will be a Touch Tour ahead of an audio-described performance of the biggest show the Festival has ever programmed – Place des Anges, an immersive sensory aerial spectacle written and directed by Pierrot Bidon and Stéphane Girard and produced and performed by leading French theatre company Gratte Ciel. A multitude of winged white angels – acrobats, climbers, dancers and circus artists – animate the night sky above central Milton Keynes. Suspended from invisible zip lines, they float and fly overhead defying gravity scattering white feathers on to the audience below.

BSL interpretation of Deva by Pagrav Dance, Sunday 30 July, 12.30pm and 4.30pm
Milton Keynes-based Pagrav Dance Company’s Deva, created by Pagrav’s artistic director Urja Desai Thakore in collaboration with artist Hetain Patel, playfully unravels some of the complexities of British Asian identity, connecting dance, classicism and the everyday.

Look Mum, No Hands! by Daryl & Co and Mimbre Saturday 29 July,12.30pm and 4pm, and Sunday 30 July, 11am and 4pm
A tender tale of friendship and growing up, Look Mum, No Hands! Is a collaboration between disabled-led Daryl & Co and female-led Mimbre. It’s a coming-of-age story about two friends testing their own boundaries. One in a wheelchair, one without, together they explore freedom, taking risks and independence. Using striking physical imagery, acrobatic shapes and unexpected choreography, the two friends gently push the boundaries of what is possible until together they find the perfect balance of each of their limits.

Access Guides
All information on the above performances as well as an Easy Read Guide, a BSL Video Guide and a VocalEyes Audio Description Guide can be downloaded from