'Blindness' at the Princess of Wales Theatre

Canadian Premiere at the Princess of Wales Theatre

Mirvish series

Joe Szekeres

An astonishing and brilliant production that still resonates within my very being at this moment
Live theatre has gloriously returned to Toronto’s Entertainment District, and the Mirvish series has selected a whopper of a production.

Billed as a ‘socially distant sound installation’, the Canadian premiere of The Donmar Warehouse’s production of ‘Blindness’ must be experienced live.

It left me verklempt as I exited the theatre.

And now, as I write this, I am energized in trying to describe (while not spoil) the monumental clout of this production especially as Ontario now lives in Stage 3 of re-opening.

Only fifty people are allowed at each performance. Upon entering the theatre lobby, we are placed in separate pods of singles and pairs which piqued my curiosity. I understand why this is done to ensure patrons feel safe, but I also wondered if this division might also be used to heighten interest in what I was about to witness. We are then taken row by row onto the stage of the theatre, and I paid close attention to Lizzie Clachan’s impressive and immersing set design. We are then shown our seats and instructed to place the headphones on which have been cleaned and sanitized after each performance.

On the backstage wall are the following lines: “If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.” I ponder over these words and am then compelled to take a picture of it as I don’t want to forget them.

I’ve never read José Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ and am now keen to get a copy. As the lights dim, we hear a car grinding to a halt and its driver explaining he cannot drive anymore as he has suddenly and, without any warning, gone blind. Within hours and days, an epidemic of blindness has spread throughout this unnamed European city. The government tries to quarantine the contagion by herding the newly blind people into an empty asylum. The attempts are futile, and the city delves into panic.

Juliet Stevenson magnificently voices the Doctor’s Wife and Storyteller. She wasn’t just merely reading a story to me. No, no, no I heard someone deliver a flawless monologue in this enthralling tale of a global pandemic of epic proportions that affects many lives.

Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?

What is also extraordinary and fantastic about this production is the work of Ben and Max Ringham in the creation of something even stronger than ‘sensurround’ that was common in several films of the 1970s. The proper term here is immersive binaural sound design. For example, there are moments when it is pitch dark, and suddenly Ms. Stevenson’s voice bewitchingly whispers in my ear so closely that at one point I could feel myself reaching out to see if she was there in front of me. Another moment, she whispers in my ear if she could hold me, and I felt my head slightly tilt to one side as if she was truly holding me as I sat in the chair. At other moments, I can hear her voice clearly off in the distance on another part of the stage.

When the power of storytelling resounds and touches the very soul of each of us, that is the mark of something unique that cannot be missed.

An additional shout out of dramatic excellence and praise to lighting designers Jessica Hung Han Yan for the spectacular lighting of the presentation. I looked up and studied it for a few moments before the production began and was captivated by the criss crossing formation. These lights during the production change colour and lower, and I felt myself holding my breath a few times when this happened especially when the stage is thrown into darkness.

Walter Meierjohann directs this production with a phenomenal acuteness of the effects of words, their sounds, and their meanings. He has paid loving and meticulous detail to my personal aural sensations throughout the 75-minute presentation.

Final Comments: An electrifying, galvanizing and intoxicating production that still resonates within my very soul and being at I write this the next morning.

Get tickets for this.

Live theatre is back and thank you to the Mirvishes for ensuring a safe return for all of us.

Running time 75 minutes with no intermission.

Production runs to August 29, 2021. For tickets, visit www.mirvish.com

Photo provided by www.mirvish.com.

David Mirvish presents the Donmar Warehouse production of ‘Blindness’
Based on the novel by José Saramago with adaptation by Simon Stephens.
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Sound designers Ben and Max Ringham
Designed by Lizzie Clachan

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