It’s not often that you arrive at a theatre to see a play and are asked: ‘Would you like to wear a blindfold?’ This Bad Physics production of Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World, however, is an immersive sensory experience complete with sounds, smells and occasional fleeting physical contact between cast and audience.
Those audience members who take up the blindfold invitation are guided to their seats by cast members into an aural world of chatter, hairdryers and rustling newspapers, and an olfactory world of Sunday morning bacon and coffee.
The play, Louis de Bernières’ only theatre piece (and at this performance narrated by de Bernières himself), is set in Earlsfield and introduces us to the myriad of characters who inhabit this South-West London suburb. De Bernières himself acknowledges the strong influence of Under Milk Wood on the piece.
First, we meet Posh Katy as she takes a bath and sings Fever – accompanied by the smell of fancy soap wafted (I know not how) into the faces of the blindfolded audience members. Chip-shop owner Mr Wong sings along to Pavarotti’s O Sole Mio whilst Mrs Wong goes back to sleep to dream of chips – accompanied by the smell of vinegar.
Other characters include Potty Irene, who feeds the ‘doves’ from her sash window, much to the delight of three black cats who use it as a hunting opportunity; Thrombotic Bert and Emphysemic Eric who sit on a low wall and reminisce; and an old lady with a lavender rinse – and a lavender scent – who walks with her shopping trolley and is ‘prime purveyor of news and views’. Also featured are London sparrows, ‘smart and respectable’ urban foxes and two blue plastic bags who drift down to Tooting Bec and back each day.
Although set in Earlsfield and with plenty of references that elicit knowing giggles from the local audience, there are characters that any suburbanite will recognise, from the old folk via the young ‘intelligentsia’ to the local chavs in their bass-powered cars.
The cast, although unseen by at least half the audience, work exceptionally skilfully to produce not only the vocal performances but also the accompanying sensory experiences. It is slightly unnerving but oddly enjoyable to know that the cat winding its way around your legs is not actually a cat…
For a unique and thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience, ‘see’ this play blindfolded and let your imagination do the rest.