Stage prompts control the speed of the onscreen translations
A pioneering system has been introduced at a London theatre to translate the musical Hairspray into eight languages.
The wireless handheld screens enable audience members to read live subtitles in their chosen language.
The system was tested at Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End, where Hairspray is performed.
Theatre spokesman James Williams said the "simple yet effective" translation system has received a positive response from audiences.
Translations of theatre performances are traditionally provided by words appearing on screens to the side the stage.
However, these usually translate into only one language and can distract audience members who do not require translations.
Alexander Vegh of Show Translations, the firm which translated Hairspray, said: "What we wanted to deliver was a solution that can provide multiple simultaneous translations at any theatre on an individual basis, including for those who are deaf or hearing impaired."
The system provides subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and Chinese, with the speed of the translation controlled by stage prompts to ensure the words are in time with the stage action.
David Bradshaw, of developer Cambridge Consultants, said the challenge was not only to support hundreds of devices wirelessly in a theatre but also ensure the light from screens did not affect those sitting nearby.
He said: "A great deal of time was spent getting the 'human factors' right."