Extant and Yellow Earth theatre companies present an engrossing and adventurous journey into the lives of four contemporary blind travelers whose stories mingle and merge in the airport terminal in which they are waiting. Review by Hannah Thompson.
Two of the travelers, Sarah Houbolt and Amelia Cavallo are powerful physical presences on stage. They are circus performers who spend their sections of dialogue in almost constant movement, either on the ground as they warm up, or above the stage on their aerial silks. As they move they share their stories and narrate their movements.
They cleverly use a student-teacher dynamic to teach the audience about their aerial work as they appear to teach each other. This seamless integration of audio description into the play is one of my favourite things about Extant’s work.
As they point out in the access notes: “access for visually impaired audiences is integrated subtly within the dialogue and sounds on stage”.
Gone are the intrusive and isolating headsets. Instead the play’s dialogue and sounds make it entirely accessible to blind and partially blind audiences.
This does not mean that the play will not appeal to sighted audiences: far from it. Films, projections and lighting effects and of course the breath-taking silk work give visually dependant audiences something to look at whilst the stories circulate and evolve around them.
The stories of Victoria Oruari and Takashi Kikuchiare are particularly compelling, perhaps because they are ghostly presences around the stage. Their voices seem to move around the auditorium thanks to the ingenious use of spatialised sound. This creates both a powerfully immersive experience and a restless sense of constant movement; of journeys begun but not yet finished; of possibility and potential.
Their contemporary stories of immigration and belonging alternate with the peaceful moments of rest and reflection offered by the female Japanese voices who deliver a series of ‘lessons’. These phrases, which function as intriguing interruptions, pause the on-stage action and create a meditative space which encourages us to make our own connections between the contemporary stories being told and the storytelling traditions of the Japanese Goze, the itinerant blind female musicians and storytellers whose history inspired the production.
In these moments of quiet reflection, I felt invited to find connections between my own blindness story and the tales of adventure, advocacy and ambition woven through the play.
At once satirical and moving; thought-provoking and exciting, this Anglo-Japanese production is multi-cultural, multi-sensory and multi-layered. It raises more questions than it answers and offers snapshots of lives in process. It left me hungry to hear – and share – more stories.
UK TOUR 2019
Harlow Playhouse Theatre Tuesday 5 February, 7.30pm, Playhouse Square, Box Office: 01279-431945
Stratford Circus, Friday 8, 7pm & Saturday 9, 2pm & 7pm February, Theatre Square, London E15 1BX Box office: 020 8279 1080
The Lowry, Wednesday 13 February, 8pm, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ, Box Office: 0843 208 6000
Theater Clwyd, Friday 15 February, 7.45pm, Sat 16 February, 2.45 & 7.45pm, Raikes Lane, Mold, CH7 1YA Box Office: 01352 701521
The Curve, Wednesday 19 & 20 February, 7.45pm, Rutland Street, Leicester, LE1 1SB Box office 0116 242 3595
The Albany, Friday 1, 7.30pm, 2 March, 2pm & 7.30pm, Douglas Way, Deptford, Box office 020 8692 4446, London SE8 4AG,
The Arena, Wolverhampton Tuesday 5 March, 7.30pm, Wulfruna Street ,West Midlands, WV1 1SE Box Office 01902 321 321