Theatre Cryptic at the Traverse, Edinburgh, and touring
Nearly fifty years ago, a man's body was found in the home shared by the blind and paralyzed (not to mention ironically-named) Homer and his eccentric brother Langley Collyer in Harlem, New York City. In Tunnel Visions, this story (which, as one learns more about it, becomes increasingly bizarre) is acted out, supplemented by Anthea Haddow's chilling compositions and film clips projected on a screen over the stage.
Thanks to Haddow's music and the lighting designs of Nich Smith and Cathie Boyd (the latter of whom also directed the piece), Tunnel Visions is vastly atmospheric from the very beginning. Film clips, slides, and lights build up until the audience can make out the outline of the pianist (Robert Melling), and then the violin (played by Steve Morris) begins to contribute, with Morris crossing the stage at the same time. The entire audience could be captured by this eerie opening to the live action on the stage, but soon Alan Oke (playing the crippled Homer) begins to roll on stage, his slow journey a painstaking and tormented one. Oke's voice is powerful and filled with despair as the play begins, and sadly there's not much reason for his emotional state to change over the course of the performance.
It's clear that the technical expertise of the team behind Tunnel Vision leaves nothing to be desired. Each point in the script is highlighted by Haddow's score, which runs though almost the entire performance - and when there's not actual music being played, the vivid sounds that penetrate Homer's dark world help the audience sympathize with his predicament. In the programme, Haddow writes of how she "attempted to represent their decaying home as a living, breathing entity." She certainly succeeded - even more of an achievement when one considers that set designer Axel Morgenthaler has made the brothers' home up not of the piles and corridors of the trash that filled the factual Collyer brother's home, but of simple white screens which are then maneuvered into place as Langley (Steven Beard) forces more and more of his eccentricity on his brother.
If Tunnel Visions has some difficulty in retaining the audience's initial eager attention, this can be set down to two primary causes. First, the energy of the piece is extremely dark, and in many ways it remains the same throughout the piece. The audience enters a scene of desperation, and that desperation is maintained for the full fifty minutes of the play, with only one real exception - and Langley's sudden departure from the part of the stage where his interactions with Homer take place is a welcome break from the fever pitch of the brothers' relationship.
The other element that may make Tunnel Visions difficult for some theatre-goers is through their attempt to force the audience into the brothers' experience. This is where the film projections are used, along with Haddow's "breathing house" sounds. It's not that this technique isn't effective, but that there are points when the darkness seems to stretch on for longer than is beneficial to the play.
Tunnel Visions tells an interesting story, but it's hard to tell what there is to the tale that couldn't have been summed up in a much shorter piece. In some ways the story is a simple one, but the atmosphere of the theatre while it is being told seems to hint at deeper pathos, and, despite the quality of the individual elements of the performance, this is a piece that many audience members will either love, or find excruciating - very much depending on their own state of mind when they walk into the theatre.
"Tunnel Visions" is at the Traverse Theatre 25-26 March, 2004, and is available for touring throughout 2005.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody