Divine intervention or dumb luck, yet I spend my journey to Jacksons Lane, where Theatre Re are performing their Blind Man’s Song, listening to an episode of This American Life that features a neuroscientist from Durham who claims you may not need eyes to see. The thought is so revolutionary the two NPR producers literally proceed to shout it off the roof tops. It turns out quite a few reputable scientists from topnotch institutions have confirmed images can be conjured up using senses other than sight. Daniel Kish, one of the blind people involved in the Durham study, asserts the reason most blind people don’t use the image-creating part of their brains lies in the cripplingly low expectations they are exposed to. Blindness, Kish says, is a social construct.
Back to Blind Man’s Song, a performance that, if sight is a social construct, might be one of its manifestations. It brings a story of a blind man’s salvation through imagination and creativity. His everyday is full of insecurities and anxieties – even in his room he stumbles around in shaky, insecure steps; his confidence, corporal and other, comes from music – when the stumbling brings him to his piano and violin a whole different world comes alive in his mind and on stage.
What the music (by composer/performer Alex Judd) conjures up is a somewhat cliched love story, told through a combination of dance and mime. It features a faceless couple whose identities are hidden behind bandages, as well as their longings, journeys they took to find each other, obstacles they encountered along the way and a green handkerchief: belonging to the woman, found by the man, and conspicuously present at the piano – as either inspiration or a souvenir. The skill of the two performers, Guillaume Pigé and Selma Roth, is unquestionable and unintrusive: flashy moves and showing off are put aside, allowing for a physical restraint to serve the piece. While the technique and the style might be in tune with the shades of the characters – shy, reserved, patiently awaiting the right moment to explode in passion – the narrative they serve offers little originality and a lot of illustrative patterns. The woman is so elusive she might be a fantasy or a hallucination, the man is happy to chase forever if only because the elusiveness makes her all the more attractive. They’ll court, they’ll travel on shaky caravans, they’ll occasionally touch tenderly and stop to stress the importance of the moment – but their relationship will never go beyond uninspired boy meets girl images.
As for the social construct, Blind Man’s Song comes wrapped up in a heavy layer of nostalgia, old-ish costumes, and most of all a romanticised if cruel outlook on what it means to be deprived of vision. An adversity of such power that walking around familiar and empty spaces will remain an insurmountable challenge for ever, blindness cannot be defeated but only temporarily escaped through music and a vivid inner world. When the music stops it’s back to the darkness – literal and metaphorical. The suggestion that people with disabilities can still find some sort of a fulfilment, though only for a while and on their own, is so condescending it couldn’t have possibly been the intention. Without it though, what remains are jaded thoughts on the power of music and love, entangled into a power-bomb of optimism that promises a lot, but comes with no fuse.