“Here be the people that make the city new”
On entering the Vault at Southwark Playhouse, a man in a grey tracksuit offers you a furry purple blindfold. ‘It’s your choice to wear it…’ he says, how could you refuse?! Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World is the only play that Louis de Bernières has written but it is a play for voices, originally broadcast as it was on Radio 3 and that is where the blindfold comes in. Bad Physics’ production offers the opportunity to experience it as a radio play, listening to the dialogue but with added sensory experiences, live sound effects, smells and sensations or you can choose to watch the cast perform these sensory interventions and experience it without the element of surprise.
The show is an homage to the author‘s life in Earlsfield, South West London and takes direct influence from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood in its device of an omnipresent narrator inviting us to witness and eavesdrop on the everyday life as he has observed it in Tooting. The cast of eight play a multitude of characters from a wide range of the social spectrum giving a rich slice of the diversity of this community, which like so many communities, is having to deal with changes that have and are continuing to take place. The characterisations sometimes tend towards the broadly stereotypical but only because so many stereotypes are based in truth and the cast never loses sight of the humanity of even the wackier traits of behaviour being portrayed here.
I managed about 25 minutes with the blindfold on but my need to lip-read, especially in the rather echoey chamber of the Vault, led me to watch rather than experience the latter part of the show and it was really interesting to be able to take in both possibilities. There’s great fun in watching the actors working at creating the soundscape, sometimes using unusual objects, and seeing the reactions of the blindfolded participants as they react to whichever stimulation they are being subjected to. But it does take away the element of gentle surprise which is the best thing about it, especially when it comes to the smells, it just isn’t the same when you can see someone approaching you with a piece of Tupperware!
Sunday Morning… was great fun and something nicely different to take in at a London venue. It doesn’t outstay its welcome at all but it is also great social theatre: from the outset there’s a real sense of camaraderie with the people around you as you’re guided to your seat and the giggles around you either heighten the anticipation of what is swiftly coming your way or make you smile because you just experienced it. One is left with much to talk about afterwards and a great sense of admiration for the cast who work tirelessly at provoking all the senses.