Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 24 June 2017
Discovery of the evening: Louis Braille was a child when he developed the alphabet of raised dots into the writing still used by blind and visually impaired people around the world today. It’s an especially
impressive feat considering the run down and under-resourced institution he attended, Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris. However, the prevalent hostile attitude towards disabled people was a constant obstacle towards the system’s adoption; even the belief that blind people could be academically educated was radical at the time.
Sebastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Sauray’s musical, newly translated from French by Ranjit Bolt, is a devoted tribute to the french hero. It focuses the conflict between pro- and anti- disability rights on the school’s resources and teaching methods, with Louis at the centre of the fight. The story captures this struggle to an extent, but within a translation that is clumsy and lacks nuance. Worthy of being told to honour Braille’s work, the simplistic book and often trite lyrics underserve the revolution The Braille Legacy adoringly and uncritically documents.
There is also a painfully neglected subplot involving disappearing children and a “radical” doctor, but these are an unconvincing afterthought – surely children vanishing form the school without a trace would cause a huge uproar within the school community? Instead, they are initially brushed off, then infrequently mentioned. This causes the main storyline to lose its power as something so major as a vanished child is handled so casually.
There is some excellent talent in the cast even if the script lets down the production. Jack Wolfe, still in drama school, is the determined and fragile Louis. His high baritone/low tenor is backed with the confidence and conviction of a more seasoned performer. Ceili O’Connor as the institute’s matron doesn’t get much of a chance to showcase her ability until late in the show, but when she does, she is a force to be reckoned with. Jérôme Pradon as head of school Dr Pignier makes a great hero and advocate. The children’s ensemble is worthy of any West End stage. But there’s a glaring lack of disabled performers.
Though The Braille Legacy is a novelty history lesson in disability access development and has merit due to the rarity of its story, the execution of the telling is weak. The script lacks depth and the performers work hard to compensate, but it’s not enough to give the show much power or impact.