Every so often there will be a quiz or a dinner party topic around the subject of which of our senses we would be OK with losing. Safe in the knowledge it’s unlikely to happen, we will plummet for a sense we think is superfluous, such as smell. The reality is that should we lose a sense we will not get a choice as to which one goes. We are so used to having all five that the loss of any one of them would have a devastating effect on our lives. This is the fate that awaits one of the characters in Phil Young’s play Crystal Clear which is making a long-awaited return to Islington’s Red Lion Theatre.
Picture dealer Richard (Gareth Kennerley) has recently moved into a small flat. It’s not much but it’s his and although there is not really room to swing a cat, there is space for his futon, his favourite chair and his bookshelf filled to overflowing with knick-knacks and objets d’art that he has picked up. Tonight is a special night for Richard as he has invited Thomasina (Gillian Dean) around to see the flat. Well, when I say see, I mean be introduced to the flat as Thomasina is blind. Richard guides her around the flat letting her explore everything with her fingers so that she can picture the room in her mind. Later the two, explore each other more thoroughly and spend the night together. This may sound like Richard has an idyllic life but unfortunately, there are two major blips on his horizon. First, he already has a long term partner Jane (Rakhee Sharma) who cannot understand why he has moved into this flat when he could live with her. And second, Richard is diabetic and his health is getting worse. Juggling two women and his daily injections is hard enough at the best of times but when, one day, Richard’s diabetes causes him to go blind, which has a devastating effect on his, Jane and Thomasina’s lives and leads them to make some important and life-changing decisions.
Crystal Clear is not your average play. Let’s start with the layout. In what I believe is a first for the Old Red Lion, this play is performed in the round, with Luke W Robson’s set, dominated by the futon and textured ceiling above interwoven with the audience seats. This means that you are immediately in the action and become very connected with the characters. In fact, there were moments after Richard went blind when I had to stop myself helping him as he put records on the record player or was looking for the whisky. In fact, mentioning the record player, I was really impressed that the music came out of it, rather than, as often happens in smaller venues, from a speaker in a totally different part of the room. Nice work. One other thing to mention about the setting is that this is a really accessible production and both Gillian and Rakhee provide an audio commentary to the action on stage. At first I did wonder if this would be too intrusive but actually, it works really well and there is something really intriguing about having an emotionless voice describing the events as I watched them. Director P J Stanley makes sure there is a lot of movement going on, and there are some amazingly sensual moments, choreographed by Fight & Intimacy Director Enric Ortuno, that are really enhanced by having the disembodied voice describe them.
Phil Young’s story doesn’t pull any punches in addressing not only the battle between the sexes but also the reality of life as a blind person. And the three actors really give their all in presenting this story. I did have trouble understanding why Jane had stood by Richard as long as she had. The two of them just continually seemed to argue and bicker and Jane was, in my opinion, not a nice person at all and I really didn’t like her at all. Thomasina, on the other hand, had my emotions switching from side to side throughout. Without going into too much detail, I loved her in the first act, despised her about halfway through the second and then felt a grudging understanding and admiration of her by the end. As for Richard himself, following his journey was hard work as the guy went through so much in a mere 100 or so minutes and my feelings towards him kept changing. As the character says, nobody knows how they would react if this – the loss of sight – happened to them and Richard’s reactions seemed to cover all of the seven stages of acceptance but not necessarily in the order expected. Gareth Kennerley’s performance as the tortured Richard was first-rate and there were moments – such as his attempted humour in the face of adversity (so British) – when I really loved him. Looking back, and seeing how I’ve described my reactions to the characters, it’s obvious how amazing all three actors were at bringing them to life.
As nights at the theatre go, Crystal Clear is not the most comfortable. Without doing anything directly, it forces the audience to not only think about how they would react to finding themselves in Richard’s predicament but also to address their own perception of blind people and how they cope with day to day life.
Review by Terry Eastham
Crystal Clear is a play about Richard – a young man with diabetes – who is struggling. As his health and relationship with long-term partner Jane deteriorate, he looks for comfort in the calming company of Thomasina, a poised and enigmatic blind woman. When Richard abruptly loses his own sight, however, his intense but ill-fated connection with the serene Thomasina takes a tragic turn, and the two must confront the question of how their love survives in a world made for the sighted.
Pia-Ramona Wojtinnek PRODUCER
PJ Stanley DIRECTOR
Peter Small LIGHTING DESIGNER
Luke W Robson SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER
Amelia Cavallo ACCESS CONSULTANT
Gareth Kennerley RICHARD
Gillian Dean THOMASINA
Rakhee Sharma JANE
Venue: The Old Red Lion, London
23rd July – 17th August 2019 (not on Sunday 28th July, and no shows on Mondays)
Dave G says
I’m afraid I found the play quite cliché, especially towards the end, and a little “tortured” for me – the conclusion was contrived too. You can tell this was written in the early 80s when disability was still viewed in a different way (and rare to see on a stage).