Black Hole Theatre’s ‘Blind’ is the stuff of nightmares, but in the best possible way. Existing in a surreal dream-space, this dance/puppetry/theatre hybrid centres around a blind man with lumps growing all over his body, and his wish to be healed.
According to the program notes,‘Blind’ is an exploration of “disability, rejection, and ultimately, resolution.” Mostly, I was too entranced by the puppets and the movement to analyse where the metaphors might be and what they might mean.
Duda Paiva is a master puppeteer, giving each of his three puppets life, personality and – most importantly – breath. Paiva’s command of his body, voice and inanimate co-stars culminates in a bewitching performance that really does feel as though he has put you under a spell. His choreography is beautifully strange, and just as magical.
Directed by Nancy Black, ‘Blind’ requires a willing audience. Paiva’s character starts by chatting to the audience as though in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. He asks people to help him scratch his lumps, and tell him what ails them, and generally searches for companionship and acceptance. Throughout the piece, he circles back to the audience, asking them to hold strings or puppets here and there. It is a playful, collaborative relationship, but one which tends to sit outside of the rest of the play. Perhaps this denotes a shift between the real world and the spiritual realm; to me, though, it often felt a little clunky and unclear.
The real story happens in a dream-like state of strange terror, where anything can happen at any time. Demon children fly through the air, charming girls spin in circles, and a huge mama dances and chants and commands us all with her presence. It is a difficult piece to describe, simply because it is so surreal. But it is a beautifully poignant exploration of the self, and of self-acceptance.
Black’s direction is brave and skilled. Along with Paiva, she has created a strange, slightly terrifying space of humour and sorrow. Lighting design from Mark Verhoef is lovely, and handles the shift between the real and the surreal with a light touch. Music and sound design from Wilco Alkema and and costume/set design from Machtelt Halewijn both add immeasurably to the deep strangeness.
For me, ‘Blind’ is less an exploration of disability, and more an exploration of the self. Through the simple use of body, voice and breath, Paiva and Black have crafted a surreal new world of possibility, discovery and hope.