The Donmar Warehouse is to reopen temporarily from 3 to 22 August 2020 with a socially distanced sound installation, Blindness, based on the dystopian novel by Nobel-prize winning José Saramago, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Walter Meierjohann. This hour-long ticketed installation for a limited number of visitors will run four times a day, with seating arranged two metres apart in accordance with social distancing guidelines in a transformed Donmar Warehouse.
As the lights change at a major crossroads in a city in the heart of Europe a car grinds to a halt. Its driver can drive no more. Suddenly, without warning or cause, he has gone blind. Within hours it is clear that this is a blindness like no other. This blindness is infectious. Within days an epidemic of blindness has spread through the city. The government tries to quarantine the contagion by herding the newly blind people into an empty asylum. But their attempts are futile. The city is in panic.
Acclaimed stage and screen actor Juliet Stevenson voices the Storyteller/Doctor’s wife. Visitors will listen on headphones to this gripping story of an unimaginable global pandemic – and its profoundly hopeful conclusion – featuring an immersive sound design using binaural technology by Ben and Max Ringham. The Donmar Warehouse is reimagined by designer Lizzie Clachan, with atmospheric lighting designed by Jessica Hung Han Yun.
Enhanced safety measures will be used to ensure the health and safety of all visitors to the Donmar. Visitors will be seated two metres apart in accordance with social distancing requirements, unless they attend with someone from their household or social bubble. All visitors will be required to wear a face covering throughout their visit (medical exemptions permitted) as will all Donmar staff. The bar areas will be closed and there will be a one-way system around the building, with visitors asked to queue in line with social distancing. There will be sanitising points throughout the building and the headphones, seats, toilets and public areas will be thoroughly cleaned between each installation.
Audio-described content will be available at every installation from 7 August, and there will be a captioned installation at 2pm on 15 August. An audio-described or captioned digital version of the installation will also be available for purchase for those not able to attend in person.
Production Consultant (blind and partially blind experience) Professor Hannah Thompson from Royal Holloway said: “The Donmar Warehouse has a strong track record in supporting visually impaired audiences to enjoy their productions. I am pleased that I have been invited to support the creative team to ensure the Blindness sound installation has accessibility built into the experience for all visitors.
“José Saramago’s novel is a complex portrayal of blindness, and the Donmar is exploring how blindness can lead to different ways of being in the world and an appreciation that sight isn’t as necessary for understanding as we may think. In fact this installation will show that blindness can lead to rich and immersive aesthetic experiences.”
Speaking about reopening the Donmar Warehouse for this special socially distanced sound installation, artistic director Michael Longhurst said: “Reading Simon’s version of Saramago’s extraordinary allegory about a government’s and society’s response to a pandemic, I knew this was a story we had to tell immediately. With indoor live performance not yet permitted, and social distancing measures reducing capacity, I am proud that the Donmar has risen to the challenge of producing work at this time. This immersive sound installation makes a virtue of these restrictions inspiring our artists to find the apposite form for this story.
“Utilising Juliet Stevenson’s astonishing talent as a recording artist, and the binaural wizardry of the Ringham Brothers, it re-centres and celebrates this event as a non-visual experience. Our theatre has lain empty for so long, so I am delighted we can gather there for a unique and accessible experience after the isolation of Covid-19. I am so grateful to all of our loyal and passionate supporters who have made this possible through their continued generosity and incredible kindness during these testing times.”
To accompany the installation the Donmar podcast ‘Reclaiming Blindness’ will be available to download from 7 August. Simon Stephens will interview Professor Hannah Thompson to unpack the representations of blindness in Blindness – both the novel and this adaptation. They will take the long view across centuries of literature whilst discussing the exciting possibilities for creatively centring the non-visual in theatre today.