Sunday, 25 March 2012


24/3/12, Young Vic

70 minutes, no interval. Another immersive drama from Sound & Fury, the team who brought us the wonderful Kursk at this venue last year (the Young Vic's Clare studio). We entered in near-total darkness (they'd even persuaded the authorities to let them dispense with illuminated exit signs), though as your eyes adjusted you realised there were soft pools of light under each seat. Parts of the performance (one man, John Mackay) were in complete darkness as well, others in soft pools of understated light.

The man works as a planetarium lecturer. We see the stars on the ceiling, he talks about the Pole Star and how to find it, Sirius and why it scintillates, about the unimaginable vastness of the universe, about the distances from here to Andromeda, about the big bang, about entropy. He is a single parent with a six-year old son, Leo, who's mad on Thunderbirds. We hear recordings of Leo as he plays and he and his father talk: a real child with a child's phrase-making skills and capacity for imitating not just Thunderbirds dialogue but the solemn, sententious tones of voice that adults adopt.

We see the man at his hobby (photography, developing images in a bath), and at the hospital where they diagnose retinitis pigmentosa, progressive loss of eyesight, and on the phone to his parents. Gradually his sight diminishes. We see him tying on a blindfold to practice making his son's sandwiches for lunch with the ingredients from the fridge: a success, except it turns out he's given him a can of beer, not Coke.

Towards the end he records his presentation as a voice-over, haltingly because he can barely read the script, and then finds it was so bad they hired a professional voice-over artist to do it again; though blind he agrees to take questions from the audience, only to be terrified by hallucinations (the mind does this, the programme says, conjuring up vivid visual images to fill the hole left by the absence of sight: it's called Claude Bonnet Syndrome).

We never really establish whether he has managed to tell his son what's happening to him, or whether Leo has fully grasped it. Towards the end when, panicked by seeing his face dissolve and crumple in the shaving mirror, he shouts at Leo we hear no more from the boy, only the sound effects of those Thunderbirds toys. At that point I was touched.

And interspersed through all this the most wonderful sounds, often played thrillingly loud and unaccompanied by narrative in complete blackout: the terrifying and disorientating noise of heavy traffic, of a tube train; the noise of rain drops and a thunderstorm (which is what the piece starts with and ends with). As good a sense, I imagine, of what the world must feel like to a blind person as one can get while sighted.

Technically almost faultless, thanks largely to the sound (by Dan Jones) and a series of projections on walls, ceiling, sheets of paper, a "mirror" (by Dick Straker): the sky at night, photographs, the colours of the spectrum, an electric hob. In some cases I was frankly baffled as to how the effect was achieved.

I thought it was a play about going blind, though reading the programme afterwards it seems the makers thought it was about the cosmos and our place in it. Dr T was rather sniffy -- "not much drama" -- and A complained she couldn't see (hah!) because there were tall people in front of her. D and I liked it a lot.

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