On Blindness

Glyn Cannon
Soho Theatre
(2004)

This production is credited as bringing together three of the most exciting theatre companies in the country, Frantic Assembly, Graeae and Paines Plough. In fact, a fourth is heavily involved as well, as Julian Crouch of Improbable Theatre has designed the show and created some attractive animated graphics.

On Blindness is a fascinating production in that its cast of six consists of three actors who are either physically or sensorially (if that is a word) impaired.

Under Vicky Featherstone's direction, they are cleverly melded into the action so that, for example, the use of sign language rather than being a distraction is integral. It is also displayed impressively not only by David Sands who plays Greg, a boy who cannot speak but also by the other members of the cast with Stephen Hoggett seemingly fluent.

The plot tells the stories of a weekend spent by two fellow workers in the film industry, the remarkably shy Edward (Scott Graham) and Jo McInnes as the upfront Shona.

Edward is awkward and incredibly shy and has fallen for the beautiful Maria, who cannot see. She is played with great feeling by Karina Jones. Despite the fact that he spends his days describing blue movies, Edward is totally tongue-tied and embarrassed when he arrives at her house. In part, this is due to his discovery of Greg masturbating in front of the apparently oblivious Maria.

Life seems easier for Shona who is introducing her partner, Dan, to Mat Fraser's Gaetano, an artist who has been painting a portrait of her for the last year. Shona's primary weakness is a need to push people to limits, oblivious to their wishes.

As the plot develops, it is apparent that the supposedly able-bodied are at least as handicapped as the impaired, though in different ways. Edward is almost paralysed by fear and a wish to avoid taking advantage of Maria. At the same time, her efforts to be taken advantage of become increasingly manic.

When Gaetano reveals his revealing painting of Shona, Dan's emasculation leads into violence against a handicapped man, an action that he, not surprisingly, regrets immediately.

Glyn Cannon presents two simple stories of love, sex and human limitation with humour and often tenderness. He doesn't fully realise all of his characters but On Blindness is the kind of play where the emotions matter more than the characterisation.

Those who see it will relate to all of the characters' failure to communicate and find it returning to haunt and amuse them long after they leave the theatre.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher