Live theatre returns to the Mirvish stage with “Blindness”
Blindness brings us back to the theatre and to the stage, literally. All audiences members will be seated in pods on the historic Princess of Wales Theatre stage, offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience live theatre from this unique angle looking out into the empty room of seats. What also makes this production unique is the story line based around a contagious outbreak that throws society into a unknown mode of panic, eerily similar to the current reality happening around us.
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.
This stage play hearkens back to the early 20th century days of listening to stories on the radio, updated to fit today’s 21st century VR. With the audience on stage, and no physical actors present, it’s all about adapting to one’s audio sensory and imagination, as opposed to a traditional visual production.
What begins slowly with the narrator (Juliet Stevenson) setting the scene of what is to follow, slowly morphs into a submersion into the reality of current times. A man suddenly becomes blinded for no apparent reason, and doctor’s are at a loss to explain why. When others begin to succumb to the same misfortune, it soon becomes apparent that this is something to be reckoned with. An epidemic of blindness.
Each audience member is ushered in individually side stage, in an orderly fashion, with spotlights above illuminating each patrons assigned location. Once at your seat, there are sanitized headphones on each chair, pre-set at a volume of 65%, with a recurring test pattern of “left” and “right” to ensure all is in working order. There’s also a flashlight attached to each seat, and since a good portion of the play happens within complete darkness, there’s also infrared lighting throughout. Both are safety precautions should any audience member feel the need to leave during the performance. There’s also use of hanging florescent light fixtures, that sporadically flash on and off in various locations of the room.
What really makes this production unique is the use of the audio range throughout the “performance.” In complete darkness patrons hear Stevenson running across the stage, conversing with others in the distance, walking back and forth, and most eerily of all, whispering into our ears. There are some possible trigger warnings that may affect some people, as the chaos of an unknown epidemic unfolds and people are tossed into quarantine unknowing what exactly is happening outside. This is real. Only it isn’t.
With Mirvish Productions being one of the first venues to welcome patrons back into a venue, safety was a top priority. Although there were no physical temperature tests or requests for proof of vaccine, the staff were very attentive and thorough with instructions and guidance. Physical distance was adhered to at all points, and at no time did it feel that safety was a concern. As the play ends, and the stage lights illuminate for the audience to depart once again in orderly fashion, we see that the black curtain has been lifted and we are looking out at an empty theatre. That was real. For now.
Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, for which he won both the Tony and Olivier awards for best play) has adapted Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago’s dystopian novel Blindness as a sound installation directed by Walter Meierjohann with immersive binaural sound design by Ben and Max Ringham. Juliet Stevenson voices the Storyteller/Doctor’s wife in this gripping story of the rise and, ultimately, profoundly hopeful end of an unimaginable global pandemic.
Blindness will be “presented” on the stage of the Princess of Wales Theatre and the audience will be seated in “pods” of pairs and single seats spaced eight-feet apart. The Princess of Wales stage is massive: 60-feet deep by 100-feet wide and 220-feet tall.“On the stage” literally means that the audience will be seated where the actors would traditionally be; the show will happen around the audience as a “sound installation.” This means there will be no actors present. The audience will follow the story solely through an incredible soundscape that includes narration by the illustrious British stage, film and tv actress Juliet Stevenson. The audience will listen to the soundscape through individual headphones.
Princess of Wales Theatre 300 King Street West, Toronto ON, M5V 1J2
August 4-8 Wednesday to Friday: 6PM, 8PM, Saturday & Sunday: 2PM, 6PM, 8PM
August 10-29 Tuesday to Friday: 2PM, 6PM, 8PM, Saturday & Sunday: 2PM, 4PM, 6PM, 8PM
Just added: 4PM shows on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday August 17-27
RUNNING TIME – Approximately 75 minutes – no intermission
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.