This reviewer can report I loved every single minute of The Braille Legacy. A labour of love and care beautifully directed by Thom Southerland with great heart and passion. A dramatic real life story that deserves to be told and needs to be heard. I doubt that many people, young or old, know much at all about braille and certainly nothing about the man who invented this remarkable system of reading and communication that opened the word of literature, music, science and more to those who cannot see. The Braille Legacy delivers gorgeous music, a superb cast and a powerful real life story that holds attention throughout and stirs the heart.
Jean-Baptiste Saudray’s beautiful score, enhanced by Simon Lee’s wonderful orchestrations and arrangements, is played exquisitely under the Musical direction of Toby Higgins. From the haunting a capella opening to a dramatic change to the hustling bustling streets of Paris where everyone wants to be bourgeois, it is also apparent this cast can really sing.
Sébastien Lancrenon’s French Book and Lyrics have been clearly translated by Ranjit Bolt making the story comprehensible and illuminating, and cast diction throughout is superb. French musicals are rare in the UK and yes there are similarities to Les Misérables in musical style and that is no bad thing. 18th century France was a pretty desperate place to be if you were blind, living in deplorable conditions shut up in institutions away from ‘normal’ people with no hope of education or aspiration. The Braille Legacy outlines the true story of Louis Braille, blinded at the age of 5, who battled against an authoritarian and unfeeling elite to ultimately profoundly changed the lives of millions by developing a system of reading dots by touch.The Braille Legacy outlines the true story of Louis Braille, blinded at the age of 5, who battled against an authoritarian and unfeeling elite to ultimately profoundly changed the lives of millions by developing a system of reading dots by touch.
Jack Wolfe in an impressive first professional role as the young tormented Louis Braille gives an outstanding, nuanced performance. Quivering lip, shoulders that collapse and then reinvigorate, fingertips that reach through the air desperately trying to find a way to communicate after frustratingly slowly trying to read a single book (the only book) with raised embossed letters. In despair, he cries ‘to know that there are so many words that I am lost to’ singing ‘when I learn, I walk on solid ground’. Louis endures beatings and solitary confinement for speaking up and trying to learn but inspired by the dice his father has given him discovers that ‘six dots will make an alphabet’ and then develops words that can be read with fingertips.
There is glorious singing and impassioned acting from the entire cast. Notably, Jérôme Pradon as humane Institute Director Dr Pignier and authoritarian, brutal Dufu played by Ashley Stillburn. Jason Broderick as Louis’ antagonist turned friend Gabriel delivers a compelling performance, as does Ceili O’Connor as Mme Demézière, Institute matron. Tallulah Byrne is a charismatic and endearing young Catherine and the other children in the Institute are also all excellent.
Tim Shotall’s two level revolving cube set is perhaps a little too modern though Tim Lutkin makes wonderful use of it with expressive and dramatic lighting. Lee Proud moves the cast fluidly around the structure and stage seamlessly with style and aplomb. Jonathan Lipman’s black and white costumes are dramatic and stylish. At the very beginning, open-eyed hopeful children tie blindfolds around their eyes. The children’s pristine white Institute uniforms contrast with their desperately bleak colourless lives.
The Braille Legacy deserves it’s time to settle and establish. There is so much that is wonderful about this first full-length original musical from Sébastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Saudray. The score is gorgeous and the whole piece moved me very much. We take much for granted in the 21 st century, and it is difficult to comprehend just how prejudiced and hostile society was 200 years ago towards those who were ‘different’ when braille was first tragically banned as dangerous and subversive and a waste of time. Braille argued all his life that ‘Different is not an affliction’, converting books to braille without any government endorsement or money. He also developed a system of maths and music, before dying aged just 43 of tuberculosis caused by the dreadful living conditions he lived his whole in the Institute.
The Braille Legacy is beautiful, enriching and humanizing. A truly talented, cohesive cast, creative team and musicians do this new French musical proud. Go and enjoy a glorious new musical and be moved and inspired by what one man achieved against all odds.
Review by Catherine Francoise
The Braille Legacy is the story of a revolution and a heroic fight for independence, with the themes of difference, freedom, hope and love and the triumph of human values over adversity.
In Paris in the 19th century, blind people were victims of profound discrimination. Louis Braille, a bright young mind with a mad dream, arrives at the Royal Institute of Blind Youth, searching for the same chance as everyone else: to be free and independent. But he soon discovers that people and things aren’t always what they first seem. By sheer determination and courage he stumbles upon something revolutionary: a simple idea, a genius invention, a legacy. Two hundred years ago, Louis Braille changed the world by inventing the tactile system of communication, the Braille alphabet, liberating the “People of the Night” and introducing literacy, knowledge and culture to a people who were otherwise trapped. It was their journey into the light.
The Braille Legacy
Based on an original idea by
French book and lyrics by
Music by Jean-Baptiste Saudray
Translation by Ranjit Bolt
Venue: Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL
10th April to 24th June 2017