Review: Blindness (Donmar Warehouse with Mirvish)

As we’re beginning to see the tail end of the pandemic we are currently living through, Mirvish presents the Donmar Warehouse production of Blindness, on stage (literally) at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

On an average night in Europe, a driver comes to a halt at a light. He can no longer see, having suddenly become blind. He is now patient zero as within hours, an epidemic of blindness spreads throughout the city and beyond.

This unique theatrical experience is written by award-winning playwright Simon Stephens who has adapted the dystopian novel Blindness by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago for the stage. Presented as an immersive sound installation narrated by Juliet Stevenson who voices the Storyteller and the Doctor’s Wife, it is directed by Walter Meierjohann, with a fully immersive sound design by Ben and Max Ringham.

Various theatre companies have presented similar sound installation performances in the past but none have come to the same level of psychological immersiveness as Blindness. This production is something truly special.

Seated in pods of singles or pairs spaced 8 feet apart on the actual stage of the Princess of Wales theatre, the audience hears the audio play through individual headphones at each seat. A series of light tubes are suspended above providing, and removing, the visual element of the performance.

The audience can expect extended periods of complete darkness, as if we have all become blind ourselves, as the story progresses. There are also moments of flashing strobe lighting at direct eye level when the light tubes lower. Please be advised as this may be distressing for some.

The sheer beauty of this comes in the form of the crystal clear audio in the headphones. The sound design has made incredible use of distance as portrayed within the audio. The voice in your ears as you are sitting in pitch black is in front of you, behind you, it walks away, it runs back to you, it is literally right next to your left ear. I felt myself physically cringe as it feels so uncomfortably close as if someone is standing right at my side and every fiber of my being is expecting them to make physical contact with me at any moment.

Sudden bursts of colored lighting illuminates the stage and the rest of the audience around you, as a near comforting reminder that no, you actually haven’t gone blind.

And what you hear is to be expected, the fall of society as a rapidly growing epidemic takes away the one sense that people tend to rely on the most. Stevenson’s voice carries the story along as the narrator and the Doctor’s Wife, the only one within the quarantine who hasn’t lost her sight. She speaks to you as you are the Doctor detailing every grotesque and disturbing detail of this quarantine room, the guards outside, and the panic settling in.

This unnerving apocalyptic experience may seem like poor taste to some considering the pandemic we’ve just recently endured. To others, it’s a unique and mind-boggling piece of art that is a wonder to witness and a great return to in-person theatre.

Details:

  • Blindness is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street W) until August 29, 2021.
  • Performances run August 4-8: Wednesday to Friday at 6 pm and 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm; August 10-29: Tuesday to Friday at 2 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm.
  • All performances will be socially distanced.
  • Tickets are $59 and are available with audio described for the hearing impaired, surround sound, or mono sound.
  • Tickets can be purchased online.
  • Run Time: 75 minutes
  • Content Warning: This performance contains coarse language and the discussion of sexual assault, physical assault, and psychological trauma. This performance also employs loud noises, periods of full blackout, strobe and flashing lights within close proximity of the audience. Recommended for ages 15+.

Photo courtesy of Mirvish Productions

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