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March 11, 2012 4:13 pm
You hardly ever go to see a show by Sound & Fury. Not to see one. With the notable exception of 2009’s Kursk, the company usually presents work in near-total or utter darkness. Even getting the audience settled into the preparatorily dim Clare studio of the Young Vic on press night was an event; at least one punter was directed to a seat that wasn’t there. Then complete blackness fell, and the sound of a thunderstorm…
When I say that this is a portrayal of a man (an astronomer, who gives public presentations in a planetarium) going gradually blind, you may assume that the light in the theatre fades along with his vision, but the piece – created by Sound & Fury’s Mark and Tom Espiner and Dan Jones together with co-writer Hattie Naylor – is much cannier than that. The company has long worked on the basis that deprivation of one sense sharpens the others, and so it proves here: we find our partly lit glimpses of performer John Mackay as astronomer Max, of projections of the night sky and so forth, all the more precious and more significant because they are in such short supply. Jones’s sound design provides everything from Max’s six-year-old son running around the place playing with action figures to a rain shower in which drops fall with identifiably different sounds on various parts of a garden.
The segments of astronomy and cosmology set up a parallel between the largest scale imaginable and the smallest personal level, the one-to-one of the father/son interaction. The phenomenal distances we can see in the night sky both contrast and correspond with the shrinking personal world afforded by Max’s failing eyesight. Dick Straker’s projection designs encompass the entire Milky Way on the Clare’s ceiling, and photographs imposed on to otherwise blank pieces of paper. As so often with Sound & Fury, you leave the theatre’s eloquent darkness with a twinge of reluctance about re-entering the seeing world.
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