When we close our eyes we conjure up fantasies and our thoughts start to flirt with the unreal and the impossible. The world is becoming a strange and dangerous place and the everyday connects with the past and the future. The darkness unlocks the doors of imagination and arouses the wildest and most mysterious sides of our minds. Inspired by the paintings of René Magritte, which depict a couple with their faces wrapped in muslins, and by interviews with blind and visually-impaired people, Blind Man’s Song takes the leap of imagination to an extreme; showing the magical and emotional sparks that seep into us when our eyes are closed.
The main character is a blind musician who has never seen the light. As he gets ready to go to bed he recalls an encounter that happened earlier that day and starts a dreamlike journey. In a dark room containing just a bed on wheels and a piano, the blind protagonist conjures up a fantasy doppelganger, dressed similarly with a hat and a worn-out coat, and a woman. In the course of the night the audience is taken along the journey of the developing relationship between the two. The blind man walks around his room with unsteady steps, unfolding a story of love, hope, courage and unquenchable vision. He takes the visitors along to follow his dreamlike journey, travelling at the speed of memory to a place in the dark, where some things become more visible, whilst endless sensations distract, inform and amuse him.
The couple’s first meeting – a knock from the arm and a hanky moving from her to him – is superbly acted out in normal time and then rewound, played in slow motion and rewound over and over again, as if you’re watching a movie and you’re rewinding the tape. It shows the blind musician’s appreciation of that memory and the value it has for him, whilst the music is also adapted perfectly to that scene.
Played out as a cross between mime and dance, the two performers – with their heads wrapped in muslin – unfold the blind man’s imagination of wish fulfilment and fear. The music, composed and performed by Alex Judd, who also plays the protagonist, maintains the imaginative construct through piano and violin. Using a delivery method, Judd plays a recurring theme on the piano or violin that then carries on as he adds other musical sections. The composition is built up in layers until there is a whole piece. As the music speeds up and slows down or goes backwards, so do the performers, experiencing and examining every sound. On stage, noises are amplified through a microphone to reflect the sensitive hearing of someone who is visually impaired. The wordless dialogue of the two dream characters, who are also blind, is interrupted by sharp physical actions and sudden disappearances.
Guillaume Pigé plays the blind man’s imaginary self and tells the story with grace and magnetism, and his movements are very strong and definitive. Further, to be more familiar with what it means to live in a world without sight, Guillaume Pigé met with members of the Haringey Phoenix group, an association working with visually impaired people. His lover is performed by Selma Roth with elegance, providing a magnetic focus for the protagonist’s world. Both roles were beautifully choreographed and place the body in the centre of the performance, the wordless theatre comes with minimalistic staging and stunning original music.
The bed on wheels is almost like another member of cast, being transformed into various objects and locations and the lighting by Katherine Graham works impressively to move scenes around, focusing the energy where it is needed.
Fascinated by what is going on in a human brain, Pigé faced the challenge to make what is happening inside our heads, hearts and souls visible through performance and music. Blind Man’s song is the third piece by Graham, Judd and Pigé that takes risks, which makes a fantastic show. With their company Theatre Re, they created a remarkable piece with original compositions and intense movement sequences. Theatre Re is a London-based international ensemble established in 2009, an associate company of South Hill Park Arts Centre, and is known for vibrant and emotional work on the edge of mime and theatre. The company’s two previous productions have both toured nationally and internationally following successful Edinburgh Fringe seasons. The Gambler was amongst the top three best reviewed shows at EdFringe (2012) and The Little Soldiers was nominated for two Off-West-End Theatre Awards (2013).
The team around Guillaume Pigé has created a stunning piece with the aid of impressive performances, complex choreographed music and exceptional lighting and set design. Since premiering Blind Man’s Song at the 2015 London International Mime Festival, the play has been performed more than 40times.
Blind Man’s Song is playing at Pleasance Theatre London until Sunday 15 May 2016.
By Johanna Gill