Review: ‘Blind Man’s Song’

Blind Man’s Song is a simple question intricately answered. Blending mime, dance, and an exquisite soundtrack by Alex Judd, Theatre Re’s production explores why people kiss. It’s the type of question whose answer is limited only by the scope of one’s imagination, and Blind Man’s Song surpasses itself in creative scope. It’s not a flawless production, but it is consistently elegant and presents so many levels of nuance that the possibilities for interpretation seem limitless. It struck me as appropriate that the show should open their programme with a quote from the author Milan Kundera — they share the similar quality of offering surprising depth and structure behind an often deceptively uncomplicated surface.

Essentially, Blind Man’s Song tells a love story through sound and gesture. A blind musician remembers his relationship with a woman, and we share the story through his music. Theatre Re are far from the first to explore a Proustian idea of memory on stage — the man is prompted to recall because of a handkerchief — but this production is particularly successful at confusing memory and fantasy. The entire show is built around the solo musician, with two dancers embodying his memory/imaginings. With only three bodies ever on the stage, the audience experiences the scenes entirely through the musician’s perspective, making it almost impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction (if indeed any fact exists at all). With such a focus on the limits of sensory perception, the hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic combination of dance and mime seemed to question how much you can trust what you see before you — and whether a dream can be just as real as lived experience. Maybe it’s a happy story, maybe not. It really depends on what you choose to believe.

The devised choreography was imaginative and emotive, with a clear narrative enhanced by neat visual tricks (even if the risk involved in some of the routine, such as diving under moving beds, could be a little distracting). Occasionally, it suffered from a problem rather specific to mime — the gestures have to rely on recognisable tropes to be comprehensible and express some kind of story, but in doing so risk becoming predictable. Very occasionally it fell into the latter category, but these moments were negligible. For the most part, the visual aspects were captivating, cleverly constructed, and expertly executed.

The real star of this show, however, was the music. In a theatrical form that is entirely devoid of speech, the sound will make or break the production — and Judd’s original score was the beating heart of Blind Man’s Song. Sounding somewhere like a cross between Max Richter and Snow Palms, the music was combined with an especially disconcerting sound design that was not afraid to make its audience uncomfortable. It would have been impressive enough on its own, but rather than use a recording the composer himself performed the entire soundtrack live on stage, playing the character of the blind musician. Using looping was particularly effective here, helping to create an illusory atmosphere as multiple musics emerged from a single source, and the speaker placement immersing the audience in sound — and, therefore, the musician’s subjectivity. Music is his world, and without it he loses everything that make his life worth living. Judd’s sound design took the audience on this journey, enveloping them in his imagined (or remembered) sonic reality.

Blind Man’s Song was an unexpected gem. It took me a little while to get in to the performance, but it left me thinking for days afterwards. I will be seeking out Theatre Re — and Alex Judd — again.

Leah Broad

For more information about Theatre Re, please visit their website.

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