Black out. Lights on. Description and participation merge. Observing becomes an active choice in Libby’s Eyes.
The action on stage is audio described by a narrator (Louise Kempton). Libby’s world is audio described by Libby’s Eyes (Ariane Gray), a robot supporting Libby (award nominated Georgie Morrell) in her daily life because she is visually impaired. However, describing becomes commenting before turning into participating in the events. The viewpoint of an outside observer – coloured by emotions, attitudes and opinions – shows the connection to the staged world and the role within, but also unmasks the part outside of the predetermined role.
Libby is 29 and lives together with her mother Ali (Holly Joyce) and her father Ron (Adam Elms), who is also visually impaired and who suffers from a hip injury. They live in a dystopian world where people with any disability are categorised as either ‘functioning’ or ‘non-functioning’, the degradation to a mere object status in the world’s hierarchy. To support people with a disability, the Department of Reasonable Adjustment produces robots serving the disabled person to adjust better in their daily lives. The prototype robot Libby’s Eyes narrates Libby’s working day and free time, but gradually extends its function on its own terms by picking up Libby’s bittersweet perception of the world. This ‘defective’ lack of social skills – the robot’s adapted role in Libby’s life – triggers amusement and embarrassment not only in front of her co-worker Vin (Barry McStay), but causes Libby to lose her job and to danger her father’s and her own status as being ‘non-functioning’.
Libby’s Eyes is presented as part of the Breaking Out Festival at the Bunker Theatre to give six emerging companies the space and time to present their new work. The writer Amy Bethan Evans has created a cleverly constructed and intelligently sarcastic story about the shift of perception through the disabled and non-disabled gaze. Libby’s Eyes is directed by Spencer Charles Noll who transformed Evan’s words into an immersive journey for the audience experiencing the merge of a framed narration of staged roles and independent role construction as adaptation process: the active audio describer Kempton and Gray’s ‘defective’ robot as part of Libby’s world.
The ensemble is connected throughout and takes the audience on a journey of montage scenes through Libby’s world. The transitions – ironically commented by Kempton to unmask the construction of the show – skilfully present Libby’s family home, her journey on the streets to her office and the robot engineer’s lab. The omnipresent audio describer on and off stage pays attention to details and personal viewpoints to allow changes of perception to take place throughout. The sarcastic tone underlying the whole production combines Morrell’s genuine embodiment of the independent and head-strong Libby and Kempton’s romantic construction of an inspiring hero. This clash of narrator and role, culminating in the robot Libby’s eyes, challenges the audience as observer to take an active part in the end of the story. However, the link between action and narration could even increase and furthermore comment on the present moment losing the strings of the predetermined script.
Libby’s Eyes is an inspiring portrayal through its bittersweet narration ironically commenting on stereotypes and clichés. This self-reverential performance is a convincing and skilful piece of storytelling tackling essential issues of functionality and disability.
As part of the Breaking Out Festival, Libby’s Eyes is playing at The Bunker Theatre until 7 July, Mondays and Thursdays at 7pm
Photo: Poke in the Eye Productions