Blindness: Finding Light After Darkness
If you can see, look.
If you can look, observe.
This weekend I ventured into Toronto for the first time in over a year to see live, in person theatre. On the day’s bill was the Donmar Warehouse Production of Blindness, presented by Mirvish Productions onstage at the gorgeous Princess of Wales Theatre.
Before I get started, I wanted to share the audience advisory for Blindness:
AUDIENCE ADVISORY -Blindness includes strong language. The installation includes extended periods of complete blackout, loud noises, and bright flashing lights and strobe in close proximity to visitors. Blindness contains the following themes: discussion of sexual assault, description of an act of physical assault and explorations of psychological trauma. Recommended for ages 15+
Blindness is an adaptation of José Saramago’s dystopian novel of the same name by award-winning playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time).
As the lights change at a major crossroads in a city in the heart of Europe a car grinds to a halt. Its driver can drive no more. Suddenly, without warning or cause, he has gone blind. Within hours it is clear that this is a blindness like no other. This blindness is infectious. Within days an epidemic of blindness has spread through the city. The government tries to quarantine the contagion by herding the newly blind people into an empty asylum. But their attempts are futile. The city is in panic.
The story is presented as a sound installation, directed by Walter Meierjohann, with binaural sound design by Ben and Max Ringham. While the soundscape includes a variety of sound effects, the audience is led through the story by the voice of Juliet Stevenson.
This adaptation is cleverly written. While the story has moments which are larger-than-life, presenting it in monologue form inserts the audience into the conversation, automatically giving them a connection to the piece.
The stellar adaptation is presented in a new way, delivering it directly to the audience’s ears through headphones. This is where the Ringhams’ binaural sound design comes into play, bringing the voice of the actress directly to your ear at one minute, then far away the next.
Juliet Stevenson plays multiple parts within the piece. After setting the scene as the narrator, she transitions into the character of the wife of the doctor who first recognizes the epidemic. I don’t want to give too much away, but her story is captivating, thrilling, and heartbreaking. I never thought I could feel so much just from one woman’s voice in the pitch dark, and it is so powerful.
While most of the show is in total darkness, it begins and ends with light. Jessica Hung Han Yan has created beautiful lighting design which immerses the audience in the piece, sets the tone of each scene, and builds the tension throughout the piece.
Theatre magic occurs when all the elements work together, and this show is a prime example of this phenomenon.
I need to take a moment to commend Mirvish for all the safety precautions present at Blindness. The audience of fifty people is seated in pods onstage at The Princess of Wales Theatre in single or double seats eight feet apart. From the minute you walk into the theatre, you are masked and distanced from fellow theatregoers and ushers. Directions are given multiple times, audience members enter the theatre row by row and stay in their seats until they are led out in the same way. As someone who has been very cautious during the pandemic and tentative about returning to a theatre, I felt very safe in the venue and the hands of their staff.
Earlier, I mentioned the audience advisory for this show, and while I read it before purchasing my ticket, I was unprepared for how dark Blindness was going to be (literally and emotionally).
About 70% of the show is presented in complete darkness. Strobe lights will flash within an arm’s reach of your face. And the story, while well-written, cleverly executed, and superbly performed, is bone-chilling.
If you enjoy a psychological thriller and don’t mind the dark, this is the perfect show for you. As someone who is scared of things that go bump in the night, the show’s harsh look at how humanity functions in total darkness, this was not the show for me.
I don’t like to spoil anything when it comes to reviewing theatre, but there’s a beautiful moment at the end of the show, where warm light streams in. The light is accompanied by a message, “Don’t let it change you”. While it’s a happy moment at the end of the piece, as the character sees the symbolic ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ at the end of the trauma faced during an epidemic, I couldn’t help but tear up.
Blindness is unlike anything I have ever experienced in a theatre before.
It was raw, real, and moved me to my core.
It goes beyond “seeing” a show, providing a unique and immersive experience which pushes the boundaries of what is possible onstage.
I would definitely recommend getting a ticket to this incredible production - just be aware of the audience advisory. Due to popular demand, Blindness has extended its run and will return to The Princess of Wales Theatre in the fall from September 24th to October 24th! A few seats have also become available for the production’s August run, which is open until the 29th.
To learn more about Blindness, you can visit the link below: