WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE? Donmar Warehouse RUNTIME: 75 minutes (no interval)
WHEN? 8/8, matinee booking to 22/8/20, now extended to 5/9/20
Juliet Stevenson was supposed to be playing the lead in The Doctor in the West End this summer but here she stars as a character known only as the doctor’s wife.
- Read on for reasons including how social distancing works during our first theatre visit for 21 weeks
We haven’t stepped foot inside a theatre for 21 weeks, the last time was a preview of City of Angels at the Garrick which never officially opened, and so this return to the Donmar feels hugely important.
Blindness is based on a novel by Portuguese author José Saramago, adapted by Simon Stephens, and realised here as a 75-minute sound installation narrated and recorded by Stevenson, who does not join us.
It is about an unexplained epidemic of infectious blindness which strikes initially at the practice that Stevenson’s doctor husband runs. As the panicking government attempts to herd the blind into an asylum to quarantine, the doctor’s wife makes a dramatic decision to feign blindness to accompany her husband.
What follows through our headphones is Stevenson’s narration of the story through eyes which others assume she can no longer see through. We learn from her about the guards in the asylum, the other inmates and, as we assume society is breaking down outside, something similar is happening inside as provisions run low.
The quality of the sound is so impressive that when the atmospheric red, amber and green lights fade into the darkness affecting much of the population, it really feels as though Stevenson is whispering in our ear at times, circling us at others.
‘It’s hell out there,’ she warns at one point and the parallels between what she is experiencing and our real lives after the COVID-19 pandemic struck are stark.
Blindness was also a 2008 film starring Julianne Moore (watch trailer above) and it’s a real coup for the venue to have such an inventive and topical work on its hands. The Donmar is particularly intimate and the need for social distancing means we think there can be no more than 40 people or so in this matinee audience.
Performances are four times a day, masks must be worn throughout and there are opportunities to sanitise hands both entering and leaving the venue.
Five months without theatre is far too long and the Donmar must be applauded for staging something quite so relevant. We need theatre now more than ever to make sense of the situation in which we find ourselves.