Review by Lia Cox
The curation of art during the Adelaide Festival is at it’s impeccable best with the addition of Blindness.
Based on the 1995 novel by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, Blindness is a socially distanced sound installation, produced by the Donmar Warehouse, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Walter Meierjohann.
This latest version not only fits perfectly within the world we currently live, but the story is not far off from the sentiment of issues either.
Blindness is the chronicle of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness infecting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. The story follows a handful of unnamed characters who are among the first to be wounded with blindness, including an ophthalmologist and several of his patients.
The ophthalmologist's spouse, "the doctor's wife," is mysteriously immune to the blindness. After a lengthy and traumatic quarantine in an asylum, the group bands together in a family-like unit to survive by their wits and by the good fortune that the doctor's wife has escaped the blindness. The sudden onset and unexplained origin and nature of the blindness cause widespread panic, and the social order rapidly unravels as the government attempts to contain the apparent contagion and keep order via increasingly repressive and inept measures.
Narrated and vividly told by the incomparable British actor, Juliet Stevenson, Blindness is a post-apocalyptic, technical masterpiece, that is both unnerving and reassuring at the same time.
Primary coloured beams above our heads are constantly changing to green and purple, while the pairs of chairs are configured either next to each other, facing each other or back to back.
‘If you can see, look
If you can look, observe’
Words written on the besa block wall of the worldly Queens Theatre, an impeccable setting for this immersive experience, ask these questions of the punters – although at times I was peering through the slits of my splayed fingers.
We hear the story of the blind plague unfolding – first with a man losing his sight in the middle of traffic.
‘I’ve gone blind’, Stevenson repeats over and over.
The light beams go dark, and we are thrust into the binaural realm, where Stevenson graphically, wildly and captivatingly pulls us into the tale and never let’s go.
One by one, she speaks of each character who has encountered ‘the first blind man’ and then becomes inflicted with the ‘white sickness’.
After each story, dramatic piano keys reverberate through our nervous bodies, followed by flashing fluoro beams being dropped to just above our heads.
What follows is the core rattling and full body experience of Blindness.
Incredible surround soundscape by Ben and Max Ringham – rare moments of complete silence had me catching my breath, coupled with the superb lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun.
A special mention to the local team who brought the original vision to full life right here in Adelaide.
Even when the back doors of the old girl open to a tunnel of soft light, you will find yourself, mind and body, adjusting to the sensory spectacular you just sat through.
Do not miss it.