Saturday, March 12, 2022


Blindness.  Photo by Helen Maybanks


Based on the novel by Jose Saramago. Adapted by Simon Stephens. Directed by Walter Meierjohann. Sound design by Ben and Max Ringham. A Donmar Warehouse production presented by Arts Projects Australia. Queens Theatre. Adelaide Festival February 23 – March 20.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The audience is ushered into the Queen’s Theatre, an expansive space with pairs of chairs placed around the room under an arrangemnent of coloured neon lights. Each person is given a pair of earphones which are tested. An attendant informs us that a lockout applies and if anyone leaves the theatre they won’t be readmitted. An omen of things to come? The lights remain on as Juliet Stevenson commences her narration. It begins with the account of a man stalled at a stop light and mouthing words which when the door is opened are “I can’t see!”

 It is the beginning of an epidemic that will sweep through the city infecting with terrible rapidity. The government in its haste houses the infected in a mental asylum. Only the wife of the stricken doctor who treated blind patients, for some inexplicable reason can see and it is her story told so grippingly by Stevenson. We sit in the dark unable to see and drawn into the terrifying tale of the breakdown of a society as a result of the epidemic. Sound designers Ben and Max Ringham have created an immersive binaural experience at times close up in the ears or sometimes far away, but always directing our attention.

Stevenson’s vocal poise and flexibility brings Saramoga’s dystopian scenario to life. The images flash through the mind in the darkness as society crumbles into squalor and chaos, victims are shot and buried in unmarked graves, the instinct for survival degrades and destroys order. Blindness is a warning, a vision of a society deprived of dignity and order and the rule of law. Performed as it is during a global pandemic, it asks us to see and look, to look and observe and together to work through the epidemic and as a society restore sight out of the darkness.

Photo by Helen Maybanks
 Is it therefore a message of hope that the global pandemic will pass? Or is it a warning to all that unless a society collaborates in a spirit of cooperation, the social order will collapse? This is not a new notion. Orwell, H.G. Wells , Sartre and countless more have been the prophets of doom if a society refuses to acknowledge the infection at its core. The mantra is projected on the wall “If you can see, look. If you look, observe” Blindness offers a new experience in the theatre. But it demands attention and the commitment to change. If not that, then it is seventy minutes of aural and psychological manipulation, “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing” At times I removed the headphones to escape the screaming. If the ability not to see is a defect , then what of those who live without sight?

Blindness is an experiment in sound installation offering a different perspective on Nobel Prize winner Saramoga’s novel. Some may find it engrossing. Others may be bewildered, or even bored. There will be those fascinated by the technology and its persuasive art. But everyone should observe the lessons learnt and their relevance to our time. Because only then Blindness will have helped us to see.