It is not often that audiences are given the chance to create their own individual dreamscapes during a performance, but with the use of blindfolds and an array of sensory tricks, theatre company Bad Physics does just this allowing your imagination to run wild in a surprisingly peaceful 60-minute experience.
As you queue to enter the theatre, you are offered the chance to experience Louis De Bernières’s only play sighted or blindfolded. Take a blindfold and you will be led to your seat by one of the cast; an experience that makes you feel unexpectedly vulnerable but creates an instant bond with someone who you may never set eyes on.
As you wait for the narrative to begin, the sounds of morning fill your ears. There is the gargling of someone brushing their teeth, birds’ monotonous tweets and the clattering of a noisy neighbour moving around. A fully immersive experience, the smell of breakfast might waft past you, a warm breeze brush your clothes or the heat of a nearby hairdryer warm your face.
The centre of the world for De Bernières is Earlsfield, South London, but the poetic hour that follows will strike a familiar chord with anyone who has ever lived in a city. Inspired by Under Milk Wood, De Bernières’s play is a snap shot of the lives of the people he shared the streets of his home with.
The audience is introduced to Posh Kate, who sings in the bath and lives with her no good boyfriend, the wheezy Emphysemic Eric, Deathwish Debbie who buys drugs and makes half-hearted promises never to again, chattering old ladies, school girls singing dirty nursery rhymes and a host of vicious cats.
The eight actors use an impressive variety of accents to portray dozens of characters, punctuated by the narrator who describes the scene in minute detail, from the condensation on the windows to the concerned mutterings of the dead from the nearby cemetery. The dialogue is beautifully rich and inventive, offering a friendly hand to help the blindfolded audience slip completely into their own imaginations.
The audience is helped further by the sensory prompts that are created live by the cast using a table stacked full of equally imaginative props. The arrival of Ancient Annie brings with it a strong smell of lavender, a child playing in the street bumps his football on your shin, Sunday lunch offers the smell of gravy and onions and a furry tail tickles your feet as a cat brushes past you.
Although you are encouraged to decide for yourself whether to watch blindfolded or not – the latter allowing you to watch not only the performance itself but the reactions of the blindfolded audience – it felt like cheating when eventually curiosity got the better of me and I saw the vivid world I had invented dissolve as the blinding light that greeted me subsided to reveal the real stage. As impressive as what I saw was, it would still feel like cheating to tell you about it.