BWW Review: CRYSTAL CLEAR, Old Red Lion Theatre
Art dealer Richard has a long-term partner named Jane. He has also entered into an affair with Thomasina, a blind woman. When he suddenly loses his sight, Richard's relationships with both women are tested as he struggles to make sense of his new reality. Returning to the home of its original run in 1982, this revival has been made accessible for visually impaired audience members.
The studio above the Old Red Lion serves as an appropriately intimate space to tell this story. The action is set in Richard's cluttered flat and designer Luke W Robson succeeds in creating a lived-in and cosy environment. Director PJ Stanley's decision to stage the play in the round also ensures we are placed immediately in the action.
Whilst this successfully draws us into the world of the characters, it also leaves us feeling slightly uncomfortable and exposed during the plays more intense moments, and this works well in opening our eyes to the vulnerabilities blind people face on a daily basis. One of the more unique aspects of the revival is a live audio commentary that's delivered throughout, describing character movements and gestures. This seemed slightly jarring at first, however actually adds an additional layer to the piece, forcing us to look at the actors and their performances in closer detail than we perhaps otherwise would.
The play was originally devised using improvisation techniques by Phil Young, a former assistant director to Mike Leigh, and this certainly allows the characters to feel authentic and multifaceted. That said, there is some slightly stilted dialogue at times that shows the play's age, but ultimately the talents of the cast allow it to still stand up as a moving and memorable piece of theatre.
Richard's journey is not an easy one to follow, but Gareth Kennerley excels in his intense portrayal of the many emotions his character experiences, from making light of his condition with attempted humour to complete denial, anger and rage. He's a flawed character from the off, regardless of his health issues, and Kennerley invests himself fully in the role.
Gillian Dean, described in the show's programme as severely sight impaired, complements Kennerley well, their onstage chemistry convincing and engrossing to watch. Rakhee Sharma also offers an assured and believable performance as Richard's girlfriend Jane.
This is a thought-provoking and deeply moving piece of theatre that entertains and enlightens, staying with you long after the house lights come up.
Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli