Blindness is a unique theatrical experience which features the audience on stage, stars famous actress Juliet Stevenson, and is coming to Oxford Playhouse.
The intimate auditory encounter from Donmar Warehouse will be one of the first performances with socially distanced audiences, at Oxford Playhouse.
Based on the novel by Nobel prize-winning author José Saramango, a limited audience will be seated 2m apart on the stage and listen to the story unfold around them voiced by Olivier award-winning actor Juliet Stevenson.
“Juliet will be whispering in your ear though the binaural headphones, as if she is in the room,” production designer Lizzie Clachan explains. “She creates a feeling of excitement and emotion. It can be quite scary, but then finally light arrives.”
The story she narrates involves traffic lights changing at a major crossroads in a European city and a car grinding to a halt. Its driver can drive no more. He has suddenly, and without warning, gone blind.
This blindness is like no other, it is infectious. Within days the epidemic has spread through the city. The government tries to quarantine the contagion, but their attempts are futile. The city is in panic.
Directed by Walter Meierjohann, with immersive binaural sound design by Ben and Max Ringham, and sound installation by Simon Stephens, the gripping story charts the rise and decline of an unimaginable global pandemic, with ultimately a profoundly hopeful end.
First performed at the Donmar Warehouse between lockdowns last summer, Lizzie explains: “Audiences will see a collection of chairs all facing different directions on the stage. There are no live actors, so the audience becomes the cast.
“It has such a connection to the pandemic, this really is the show for now,” added Lizzie. “Everyone is having the same experience and Blindness is about community and overcoming adversity.
“The fact that the production takes place on stage while the rest of the auditorium is empty is very relevant to the empty cultural spaces we have seen during lockdown.”
Audiences will be socially distanced and given binaural headphones. “This makes them very aware of the isolation, but we also want people to think about the communal experience of being in a theatre,” Lizzie explains.
“The pandemic shone a light on disruption, but we hope this production shines a light on optimism for the future.”
So does Lizzie think they are setting a precedent with Blindness? “Other countries are ahead of us with this kind of theatre and there is more of an appetite for it now. Put it this way, our audiences have been delighted and excited by this production despite the extraordinary obstacles and challenges of the pandemic.
Blindness is at The Oxford Playhouse from May 28 www.oxfordplayhouse.com