Artistic Director: Jodee Mundy
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Ipswich is usually the city where the SPILL Festival of Performance takes place every two years, but occasionally there are off-shoots in London, none as incendiary as when performer artist Cassils undertook an act of self-immolation in the National Theatre in 2015. This year’s foray into the capital is very different as Imagined Touch seeks to recreate the experience of being deaf and blind to a seeing and hearing audience.
Before we enter the space we watch a short video featuring the creators of the piece, Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens, both Australian artists. Both deafblind (though one was born deaf and became blind later, while the other was born blind and then became deaf) Lawson and Stevens give us a brief insight into the frustration and isolation deafblind people face on a daily basis. Their deafblindness will last a lifetime, but our experience only lasts 20 minutes.
Pulling opaque-lensed goggles over our eyes and headphones over our ears we wait to be taken into the space constructed on the stage of The Pit at the Barbican. Even though we’ve been told that the space will be a safe one, it’s still an unsettling wait. We can see little; figures are blurs or fleeting ghosts. However, the headphones are full of noise, and Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey’s sound design gives us city streets and rainstorms. Hands soon find us and draw us away.
It would be shame to divulge all the details of such a short show. At times it is a little stressful, especially when we are initially left to navigate the space on our own. But these moments of confusion are balanced with moments of joy as we link hands with our neighbours and the performers, including Lawson and Stevens.
Even in the few minutes that our eyes are blinded, and our hearing is diverted, our sense of touch comes to the forefront to compensate for the other missing senses. This show will elicit different responses from the audience, but in leaving I was struck at how soft everyone’s hands were and I wondered if my own hands felt as soft. Imagined Touch is a humbling, yet heartening experience.
Runs until 11 November 2018 | Image: Contributed