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White Light Supplies Blindness at Donmar Warehouse

Described as an immersive, socially-distanced sound installation, Blindness is a brand-new adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel which recently re-opened London’s Donmar Warehouse. The production is one of the first to be staged post lockdown and White Light was called upon to supply the lighting equipment.

Adapted by Olivier Award-winning Simon Stephens, Blindness tells the story of when a contagious disease spreads through a city and renders its victims instantly blind. The production is incredibly unique, with no performers onstage. Instead, audience members are seated 2m apart across the Donmar stage and wear headphones through which they hear the story’s narration, provided by Juliette Stevenson. The lighting designer is Jessica Hung Han Yun, who comments: “This project is, unsurprisingly, unlike anything I’ve ever worked on before. My role was to help create an environment where the listeners feel the story is happening around them and that they’re full immersed in the action. This is a piece told through sound and visuals and the sound designers, Ben and Max Ringham, have created this amazing soundscape using binaural technology. For many audience members, it will be the first time they’ve experienced something like this and we wanted to ensure we took them on a genuinely captivating journey in which they were completely immersed”.

Jessica had to work closely with both the sound designers and set designer Lizzie Clachan in order to bring this world to life. She explains: “The configuration Lizzie came up with was genius. It makes the audience view one another constantly until the second part of the show. Regulation was an important theme that carried through the installation, both metaphorically and literally, so we focused on this a lot for the layout and design. For instance, as soon as you start queueing outside the venue, you have to be 2 metres apart and then when you enter the building, you must sanitise your hands etc. You are then instructed where to sit, (again, all socially distanced) and positioned in a grid system, similar to that of a city. In line with the theme of ’the system’, I wanted to illuminate the audience to make them aware of the bodies in the room and the community around them. That said, I also wanted to evoke a feeling of isolation, similar to that often experienced when living in a big city”.

As such, Jessica approached the team at WL to supply her with the equipment she needed. She explains: “With the feel I wanted to achieve, I knew this needed to be flexible in terms of both the colour and sharp in focus. As such, I drew largely on ETC ColorSources as well as LED tubes. The LED tubes engulfed the space above the audience in order to symbolise a variety of locations, emotions and time. Similarly, underneath the island of chairs were small colour changing LEDs”.

This was the first production that Jessica had lit following lockdown and, as such, differed from her usually means of working. She explains: “We had a lot of our initial design discussions on Zoom which was very strange; particularly for someone who likes to have creative discussions in person! Of course, the biggest change was the huge emphasis on health and safety (and rightly so). In both the rehearsal room and theatre, we were keeping 2ms apart, wearing masks and constantly hand sanitising. The Donmar were great at keeping everyone safe especially when we got to fit up and tech week. We did not have a big cast of 100 but simply one actor along with seven creatives, which made it much easier to be socially distanced in a large rehearsal room”.

Blindness opened earlier this month to critical acclaim. It has since announced an extension until 5thSeptember. It is one of several projects that WL is currently supplying across the UK, with the team working closely with various creatives in order to supply technical solutions specific to their needs. WL’s Head of Customer Service Craig Bennett comments: “While there are still many guidelines and restrictions in place for live performance, we are seeing many organisations and venues offer exciting alternatives to traditional formats; as seen with Blindness. We would encourage anyone working on a similar production, regardless of scale, venue or location, to contact our Customer Service team who will happily talk through their requirements and put together a bespoke package for their project”.