Bear with me. I’m going to briefly talk about Love Island because it’s taken over my entire world recently. Despite my addiction, I’ve always found the very first episode, with the original coupling up of couples, to be the most excruciating scene out of all the show’s acts of cishet supermodel pageantry. The onus to declare if you fancy someone based on how they look in a bikini, just standing there stiltedly with symmetrical faces and washboard stomachs, is the most un-erotic thing I can imagine.
How can they possibly know if they find each other attractive? What about the way they talk, the way they hold themselves, the way they smell?
The opening scene of Crystal Clear, devised by Phil Young, sees Richard and Thomasina get to know each other using every sense other than sight. And it’s super hot. She is registered blind, and he is blind in one eye. Thomasina, played by visually impaired actor Gillian Dean, describes to Richard how he smells. ‘Just a hint of sweat. It’s super earthy’. Gareth Kennerly as Richard leads her around the futon in the centre of the room, with the full knowledge that they’ll be on it later. It’s an intimate and exciting introduction to the play, and to people who are just discovering each other.
Crystal Clear has been made accessible for visually impaired audiences, with fully integrated audio description throughout, designed by Amelia Cavallo. Rather than being purely practical, it’s creative and affectionate. It intimately describes the actions on stage, providing a rhythmic undercurrent which makes me pay close attention to every single action. The audio description also acts as a guideline for what should be happening, the order in which actions should be completed, how long they should take. We are told in what manner the actors will move before we see them. We engage with the show through a new, sharper focus.
The accessibility and subject matter makes this such a commendable production. White Deer have mounted something that big theatres and regularly funded organizations don’t even try and attempt.
I spend a lot time enjoying Luke Robson’s set. We all sit around the edges of Richard’s small, shambolic apartment, where I’m not sure which fixtures belong to the pub-theatre’s décor and which belong to the world of the play. There’s even a mini kitchen set up next to the tech box out of sight of most of the audience. It’s this attention to detail which makes the set and action work so well together, such as a charming sequence in which Richard introduces Thomasina to the layout of his apartment, and runs around whipping cardboard boxes and pairs of underpants out of her way.
We learn that Richard is cheating with Thomasina on his long-term partner Jane, played by Rakhee Sharma. Their relationship is stale- Richard acts dismissively around Jane and she constantly has to negotiate his mood swings. The script was written in the early 80s and you can feel how dated its attitudes to gender are. After strong introductions, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that the female characters serve no function other than to support Richard, be attracted to him, and to deal with the aftermath of his outbursts and bitterness.
Halfway through the story, Richard loses the sight in his other eye due to a complication with Type 1 Diabetes. His struggle to adapt to his life without sight is taken out on Thomasina and Jane. I feel very uncomfortable watching him rant and scream, and at one point lashing out physically. In the small theatre, his movements are massive, and I hate how his story is centred and how women must suffer.
Thomasina confronts Richard at the end of the play, and it’s the first time we’ve seen her complexity and internal struggle. She tells Richard they can’t be together as a blind couple.
‘If we have kids, who will fetch them back?’
‘People won’t tell us our house is messy because people don’t tell blind people those things’
The hurt and the tenderness Gillian Dean portrays in her characterisation of Thomasina is heartbreaking, and her story is the most compelling in the piece. When she gets the chance to speak, with the weight of a lifetime of living without sight, the play is at its best. Crystal Clear suffers from its dated attitudes to gender, but it still takes us by the hands, leading us through the dark to the people who can hold us up.
Crystal Clear is on at the Old Red Lion till 17th August. More info here.