Blind Eye is writer Susannah Finzi’s debut play and she apparently originally envisaged it as a short, documentary film. The seed of this idea is still present in a play which blends fictional events with historical fact and many of the characters, though invented, share obvious DNA with famous figures.
At its best, the show is a meditation on the myriad tragedies populating the 20th century. However, these strengths are occasionally undercut by forays into melodrama. Set in 1982, the play explores the attempted prosecution of a Nazi war criminal. It opens with a series of rapid-fire scenes between the legal team working on the case, news reports on war torn regions and an unnamed older man musing on morality. The effect is striking and disorienting and the production cleverly draws you into its narrative before you fully understand what you’re watching.
This opening montage is followed by one of the most powerful scenes in the whole play. Stefan, an international aid worker (played brilliantly by Anthony Green) delivers a speech, directed at us, about displaced peoples and the world’s seeming uninterest in their plight. It is passionate and accusatory and creates palpable tension in the audience. Indeed, the dialogue and actors throughout the play are at their strongest when addressing these large themes and confronting their audience with unpleasant political truths.
There is a secondary theme in the work which is executed less successfully. In addition to its examination of justice and international relations, Blind Eye tells the story of three fathers: a retired human rights judge, a cafe owner in Lisbon and a former staffer for the Nazi party. Their relationships with their respective children are unpacked and compared and issues of masculinity and legacy are touched upon. While there is a lot of interesting material to be mined here, I felt that the family drama aspects of the production border on soap opera at points. This is partly due to some repetitive script beats, which draw out the emotional discussions for longer than seems necessary.
The sound and lighting design is often intrusive – my theatre companion described it, accurately if ineloquently, as being “a little CSI Miami-y.” Scenes would often end with an aggressive musical sting similar to those found in police procedurals. While these helped to maintain the tight pacing of the show, they are an odd choice for the piece. On a similar note, some of the performances, particularly that of Clare Louise Amias (playing the chief prosecutor on the war crime case), border on melodramatic. This suits the frenetic energy of the opening montage but detracts from the smaller, more intimate scenes.
While not without flaws, the main narrative is so captivating and well written that it is easy to overlook the things that don’t quite work. Finzi uses the familiar horror of Nazi war crimes to reflect more broadly on atrocities and the justice system’s reactions to them – and does so with a surprising deftness for a relatively new writer.