Louis de Bernières’ Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World at the Southwark Playhouse
“A play for voices” say the marketing leaflets for theatre company Bad Physics‘ performance of Louis de Bernières’ play – ripped from the radio and put onstage for the first time. I went to the gala performance, curious to see how a radio play can be adapted for stage – and was in for a surprise.
When you enter the freezing Southwark Playhouse, cast members give you a blindfold. Immediately you are deprived of the sense of sight. You don’t have to wear it all the time – or at all – but I chose to keep mine on (I’d taken off my glasses anyway and am totally blind without them).
If you do choose to “peek” or to refuse a blindfold – and there’s a lot of activity to watch if you do, as the cast haven’t given up on the acting side of things. Not that I’d know of course…
I was ushered blind to my seat, while voices chattered around me. It was very disorientating. Occasionally a “cat” miawed in my ear, there was the sound – and the smell – of bacon sizzling in a pan, a woman sang in the shower (later I discovered she was singing into a plastic cup), and a “dog” brushed past my legs.
Everything conjured up the “image” (for want of a better word) of Earlsfield, London, on a Sunday morning. There wasn’t much of a storyline, but in classic de Bernières style, you got a real sense of a place, a time, an atmosphere and above all the characters who were integral to creating it. And sure enough, I began to imagine the whole scene in my mind’s eye.
“When you listen to a radio drama or read a novel everything is in your head,” said director Amy Draper.
Seeing the actors afterwards in the post-show discussion was very peculiar. One woman who had “peeked” from under her blindfold said that although there was some great acting going on onstage, she had been faced with that bitter disappointment akin to watching a film after reading the book, where “in the flesh” doesn’t quite match up your imagination.
However, an American in the audience did say she had to give up on the blindfold, as she had been unable to fathom the “British accents” onstage.
I came away realising how much productions can skimp on the other senses when they get sidetracked by flashy costumes and complex actions.
“People always talk about going to see a play,” said Louis de Bernières (of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin fame). “But I think it’s so much more important to listen and to feel the play too.” And my goodness, we did.
The show runs at the Southwark Playhouse from 22 March – 16 April. Tickets £6-£16. Call 020 7407 0234 or visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk