How do you go about reviewing a show you've not actually seen? This isn't an ethical question, but a pragmatic one. As readers may know from the pre-publicity for Southwark Playhouse's Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World, half the audience are blindfolded for its 60 minute duration, the other half left to enjoy the 'performance within a performance' that results.
Acclimatised to such swaddling by Dutch company Ontoroed Goed at the BAC's "One-on-One Festival" (returning this week), I choose to go blind here too in the hopes of experiencing the impact of Bad Physics' multi-sensory take on Louis de Bernieres' 2001 "play for voices".
Originally written for radio, it's essentially Under Milk Wood relocated from Llareggub to Earlsfield, with south London shown up to be as villagey as south Wales through a series of Thomasesque character sketches. Here are the yuppies and the junkies, the school-kids and the OAPs, getting right up each others noses - and mine too, as each is accompanied by his or her own sound or smell, wafted (I couldn't tell you how) in my general direction.
From the moth-balled blue-rinse brigade to the shot of vinegar emanating from the Chinese chippy's wife and the furry swish and miaow of a cat pasing my calves, a picture builds up that is teaming with London life. De Bernières' narration, read by the author himself at this performance and cumulative in it repetition and refrain, bringing out both the humour and pathos of Garratt Lane's people.
A picture is what the piece remains, however, strangely 2D despite placing half the audience at the centre of its world. There's no doubting the talents of a cast who seem to be everyone and everywhere at once, but over the course of an hour, the scratch'n'sniff aspect impedes concentration on the characters they create rather than focusing it.
My non-blindfolded companion testifies afterwards how hard the ensemble worked, though says it's a bit like looking at the answers while sitting an exam. As for me, careful not to cheat, I nonetheless feel cheated of the play's full potential somehow. Even if I can still smell moth balls three days later.