Inspring and Educating whilst being highly entertaining,tuneful and well-staged.
It’s such a small stage and yet director Thom Sutherland excels in turning the story of a young French blind boy who creates a system of reading for all those without sight into an excellent show – both visually and aurally.
Surprisingly Louis Braille’s story has never been staged so it is good to learn all about Louis in this production. At a time when the only skills that blind people were taught were practical ones such as basket weaving, Louis (Jack Wolfe) strives hard to fulfil his wish to get an education the same as sighted people. To achieve this he knows that he has to be able to read the literature available to others. The only support he has is that of Doctor Pignier (Jerome Pradon), the director of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, who encourages him to adapt a system devised by the Institute’s benefactor, Captain Charles Barbier de la Serre (Michael Remick). Louis finds faults in Barbier’s work and at the age of just 15 he invents his own alphabet using raised dots. Soon the other children in the Institute are learning his method and all goes well until those in power refuse to fund the work. How Louis Braille fights for the right of all blind people to be treated equally forms the basis of this fascinating story.
Thom Sutherland manages his cast adeptly. The set – a rotating cube – provides movement as well as turning to show different areas and the actors move around easily and sing out with gusto. All sing really well and the music by Jean-Baptiste Saudray is tuneful and had some of the audience singing as they left the theatre! Sébastien Lancrenon, originally wrote the French book and lyrics, and Ranjit Bolt has written the English translation, which comes across as adequate but without any particular fine rhymes or special phrasing.
Movement plays a key element in telling the story and the young children, who are given black eye masks to wear to show their blindness, are well drilled and perform well. The rest of the cast perform well with particular praise due to Lottie Henshall as Captain Barbier’s daughter and Jerome Pradon who gives a most sympathetic interpretation of Dr Pignier who helps Louis Braille throughout his life. The real star, however, is young Jack Wolfe, who, in his professional debut, he shows a most promising talent; a good voice and charming personality.
It was good to see a number of blind people with their guide dogs at the showl. Louis Braille’s work lives on, both in terms of his fight against discrimination and his invention of the Braille alphabet, which continues to assist blind people and is widely used throughout the world. It is good to finally have his story told.
Review by Carlie Newman
Charing Cross Theatre. Until 24 June 2017 – Box office 0844 930 650