Adelaide Festival Review: Blindness

Where: Queen’s Theatre
When: until 20 March
Tickets: here

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t put myself through any more pandemic-related content. I refused to watch Contagion or play Pandemic until part way through 2021. I groaned at the end of Beautiful World, Where Are You? when COVID interrupted the story. I rolled my eyes in the Gossip Girl reboot when one of the characters flippantly said, “yeah how weird was wearing a mask?”. Then, I saw Blindness was coming for Adelaide Festival and I booked myself in immediately.

Based on a novel by José Saramago, Blindness tells the story of an epidemic of blindness that suddenly hits a city. When one man is driving home and suddenly goes blind, it’s not long before everyone he comes in contact with also loses their vision. The story, narrated by Juliet Stevenson, is told through the eyes of the doctor’s wife, one of the only people who bizarrely never loses her vision.

The doctor’s wife, pretending that she too is blind, follows her husband into the quarantine facilities where the blind are sent. This is where it all comes to a head. The blind in this story lose sense of all morals and values, as so often goes in these sorts of dystopian tales. The doctor’s wife recounts these traumatic experiences within the facility, which is increasingly filthy and increasingly dangerous. As time passes, it’s clear the people being kept in the facility have been forgotten.

The show is primarily an audio experience and the sound design, by Ben and Max Ringham, is outstanding. The audience each wears a set of headphones. The doctor’s wife speaks into our ears as she confides in us, with binaural audio technology shifting the direction from which she comes. We are surrounded by free-standing speakers, which aid to echo parts of the dialogue and leave our bodies rumbling with bass.

LED bars hanging above us are extremely simple but extremely effective. They begin flickering between colours, shifting as we progress through the story. I am left wishing that they were used more, but the design is still very well done by Jessica Hung Han Yun.

With all of this in mind, the story and the strong audio experience, I am left reflecting on how a show like this could impact the blind and visually impaired community. The show is rare in that it’s produced to so carefully create a non-visual experience, but the story itself feels almost derogatory in its treatment of blind people.

Blindness is deeply unsettling. The story is intense and I find the heavy darkness and the production overwhelming at times. There are obvious comparisons to the Darkfield shipping container shows (Séance, Flight, Coma, and the new Euology) that have visited the Garden of Unearthly Delights over the last four years, but Blindness sets itself far apart. It’s a remarkably immersive experience given its simplicity.

3 1/2 stars

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