In booking performers for an arts and music festival such as Latitude, a nuanced approach must be taken. It is something that the schedulers achieve for the most part across the weekend. For every Noel Gallagher fan at the 30,000 person capacity event, there is also someone who wishes to watch Sadler’s Wells perform ballet. However, with Theatre Re’s Blind Man’s Song, the mood of the festival has been misjudged. For, while this piece is a truly effective and quietly distressing performance, it also seemingly fails to find a willing audience here.
Blind Man’s Song is about longing. A longing for the past, a longing for a lost lover, a longing for sight. The show starts with the titular man alone in his room, and ends that way too. But in between we are treated to a beautiful display of physical theatre, mime and dance. Narrative is eschewed for a more surreal experience that is left open to interpretation, but the piece seems to tell the tale of a blind man reminiscing or imagining a lover and their time together. Through fantastic use of costumes and set, the audience are given a glimpse inside the man’s mind. The cast members are all fantastic, with excellent physicality, timing and ability on display.
It is presented as an assault on the senses. Musically, the piece is extremely accomplished. The blind man plays his violin and piano beautifully throughout, controlling the sound desk and setting the uneasy mood. The musical cues are expertly judged as well, with pieces quickening and slowing when appropriate. The three characters all wear white bandages covering their entire face, with colour co-ordinated suits to differentiate between them, creating a striking look. The minimal staging of a piano and a bed are transformed into numerous objects, and move ghostly across the floor, with those moving it hidden in the darkness. This all combines to create an intense mood, which is greatly effective.
However, it is clear from the start that this classy performance was not made to be seen in a tent, yet alone in a tent on a Saturday afternoon at a festival. For fans of the genre, this is an excellent piece, but for more casual viewers or people who have just stopped by, it is a baptism of fire. People are seen to leave throughout, which is a great shame, and no reflection on the talent of the performers at all.
Watching Blind Man’s Song at Latitude is a baffling experience. It is an intense piece, and one which if viewed in a theatre or dance studio would be incredibly affecting. But some of those senses are dulled here due to the setting. Of course, this isn’t the fault of Theatre Re. In Blind Man’s Song they have created a brilliant performance. Intense, effective and deep, it is highly recommended for another occasion. But it seems that at Latitude Festival, it was not the right time or place.
Blind Man’s Song played at Latitude Festival on 18 July and is currently touring. For tickets and more information, visit the TheatreRe website. Photo: Marc Sethi.