Page last updated at 23:58 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 00:58 UK

Seeing outside the box on Fringe

By Angie Brown
Edinburgh reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Don Quixote - Theatre of the blind
Don Quixote - Theatre of the blind runs until 22 August

As I sat blindfolded in a Fringe production of Don Quixote - a story about one man's vision of the world - I thought what a stroke of genius the director had for seeing outside the box.

I had no conception of the performance space or the actors, a restriction which enabled the performers to stage the unstageable.

Despite wearing a mask I could see in my mind's eye the shining knight, Don Quixote, riding his skinny horse "Rocinante" as he clip-clopped past me.

I could even visualise the inn, which he sees as a castle.

It is as if as Don Quixote says I had been "deceived by my own eyes".

His horse's tail swished past my face, making me jump, and I was overpowered by the most ghastly smell.

This type of theatre isn't for everyone for sure, you have to be fairly confidant in yourself, you have to trust them entirely
Derrol Palmer
Psychology lecturer

A fight scene broke out. It was very loud and all around me.

I wondered if I was going to be hit during the brawl, which was at my feet, and I sat clutching my "island" of a chair.

It wasn't that I felt disorientated, as I was very aware of where all the sounds were coming from, it was more the fear of what was coming next and how out of control I felt.

I was in a room of strangers unable to see and several feet away from where I had left my glasses in another room.

I wondered if this was how a blind person felt or was it more of a mild hostage sensation, as I was periodically touched and wafted by strong smells.

Suddenly the room was filled with animal bleating and my "vulnerable" legs, which were dangling off my chair, were brushed by what felt like hundreds of passing sheep.

Momentarily I worried that my ankles were going to be bitten, so caught up was I in the play that I had forgotten sheep do not bite.

I wanted to jerk my knees up towards my chest to get my feet away from the "danger".

But I forced myself to keep my feet on the floor as I was acutely aware of myself as I didn't know who was watching me.

Others in the audience, which I later learned were on chairs dotted around the room, must have also been feeling like this because I noticed there was not any noise from them.

They never laughed or cried or gasped or clapped as a normal audience would do. We were made to feel very much on our own and therefore we did not become a crowd with its own values and reactions.

Part of the time I was swept along with the adventure and loved the sounds and smells of a crackling fire and clanking chains.

Other parts I was acutely aware of myself, my vulnerability and the slightly claustrophobic situation I had got myself into.

'Bizarre experience'

I also felt slightly sick and dizzy, which started after I was blindfolded and pulled quite quickly into the room by a guide who led me to my seat.

This feeling lasted for a couple of hours after the show.

I don't know if it came from adrenaline or from the concentration used by leaning more heavily on my other senses.

So how had the other members of the audience found this unique show, which tells a story about deception? Was the eye an obstacle to the imagination?

I staggered into Derrol Palmer, at the end of the show, a 42-year-old psychology lecturer from York.

The whole point of the theatre of the blind is that it forces you to use your imagination
Charlie Ward, Director

He said: "It is much more intense than an ordinary theatre experience partly because there is no stage so you are kind of involved in the middle of the action.

"There is a bit where there is a lot of sheep and the sheep are all around you, you are right in the middle of it and it's a really bizarre theatrical experience because normally you sit back from the stage and you are not involved in it at all.

"This type of theatre isn't for everyone for sure, you have to be fairly confident in yourself, you have to trust them entirely and entrust the theatre group that nothing bad is going to happen to you. I felt nervous for at least 10 minutes at the start."

East Lothian writer and director Charlie Ward, 23, was given the idea for Don Quixote - Theatre of the Blind after seeing a play written for blind people in Argentina during a gap year from his studies at St Andrews University.

But he said the show, by Muckle Roe Productions at The Bongo Club, was aimed equally at mainstream audiences and those with sight loss.

He said: "Speaking to a blind friend of the family, it seems that blind people see things or construct images in different ways and the whole point of the theatre of the blind is that it forces you to use your imagination and I think for people who are used to seeing it takes a while to get used to.

"It very much is a theatre of deception."

So what were those awful smells that were put near my nose?

He said: "Actually you are quite lucky because we experimented with some really horrendous smells, one of the ones was a sealed container, which contained rotten eggs and rotten chicken, which was left for a few days.

"I came back and opened it and it was the worst thing I have ever smelt in my entire life. So the audience got off very lightly."

So after all that, is Don Quixote my knight in shining armour? No, but Charlie Ward is.



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