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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March 2005, 11:42 GMT
Blind wartime hero takes centre stage
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Resistance the play
Resistance is performed by Britain's only blind theatre company
A play based on the life of a blind French Resistance leader begins touring theatres across the UK on 4 March.

Resistance tells the story of Jacques Lusseyran who lost his sight at the age of eight, and - as a teenager - went on to become a key figure in the French Resistance in Paris under German occupation.

The work is performed by the UK's only blind theatre company, Extant, and has been adapted by Maria Oshodi who is also blind.

The young Lusseyran was eventually denounced to the Nazis and underwent a series of interrogations by the SS.

He was eventually sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp - an experience he managed to survive using his extraordinary skills.

"The book spoke to me of transformation - in particular the way in which this experience lasted as a living presence throughout his life," Oshodi says.

The one act play concentrates on his interrogation and is followed by an epilogue in which the older Lusseyran is played by John Wilson Goddard.

"At various points in the play my character infiltrates as an echo, a subconscious helpmate and support," says Wilson Goddard.

"He provides nourishment from the future."

During the epilogue that dynamic is reversed.

Basing the play on a specific scene in the book was a way for Oshodi to avoid the inevitable chronology of an autobiography.

For blind people, watching a film without audio description can often mean having to piece information together in delay, as something visual can be referred to several scenes later.

Oshodi hopes that the way she has structured Resistance has something of this fractured quality.

Universal experience

Although working with a group of blind and partially sighted actors, director Eileen Dillon confesses to having an extremely visual approach.

She consulted a group of visually impaired people to make the play accessible to a blind audience.

"Our research shows that while some people want everything to be described, others don't want you to interrupt the performance and find narrative description intrusive," she says.

She has worked with Extant to introduce live description so that it becomes part of the drama.

A scene from the play Resistance
Resistance is dominated by Lusseryan's interrogation

Other techniques include having actors walk as they talk in order to make movement more obvious, separating out actors' entrances and exits, and adding names during group scenes so that it is clear to whom remarks are addressed.

"We definitely don't want headphones - Maria and I both feel that they detract from the experience of live performance," she said.

For both writer and director the heart of the play is Lusseyran's adjustment to the loss of his sight.

Attempting to negotiate and measure the world as a sighted person no longer worked for him and so a totally new approach was needed.

"For me this is a metaphor, a universal human experience that he describes," says Dillon.

"Every single one of us has our own habits and patterns and way of walking in to the world. At some point in our lives I think we're offered this moment where those patterns get challenged.

"We all have expectations of what life will be like, but sometimes you have to let go of them in order to experience something different."

Resistance opens on 4 March at Croydon Clocktower.

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