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The Blind & The Intruder, Old Red Lion Theatre

Maurice Maeterlinck

Directed by Benji Sperring
★★★
Pros: Maeterlinck’s The Blind and The Intruder are said to have contributed to his winning the Nobel Prize. Tarquin Productions do The Intruder justice.
Cons: For me Maeterlinck is a poor man’s Pinter. His ideas have been far surpassed by both Pinter and Beckett.
Our Verdict: Possibly worth seeing, as artefacts of theatre. These plays would have shocked back in the 1890s.
Courtesy of Peter Langdown for The Guardian
Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blind and The Intruder promised to be an intriguing evening. I knew that he was a Nobel Prize winner – for literature, naturally – and that he had influenced both Chekhov and Pinter. However I had never seen any of his plays, or even read as much as a word of his.
First up was The Intruder. For the first few minutes a family is in a room, either listening to music, reading, or sitting at the table. Nobody speaks. This isn’t normally conducive to getting a play going; however it does serve to build the tension. My guest Anna-Maria could not help but shuffle her feet. Throughout the 45 minute piece many more such artifices were used to ratchet it up. The light in the lamp flickers and fades; footsteps are heard to approach; a clock tick tick ticks away; there comes a banging on the door; and a baby cries off stage. Maeterlinck was a Symbolist, and academics have probably produced volumes on the meaning of the lamp alone. In short, though, he was writing an existentialist theatre some 60 years before the existentialists even existed.
Now this sounds very impressive, and no doubt it was back in 1890. My problem with a revival, however, is that I’ve seen existentialism done much better. By the existentialists. In The Intruder, a blind old man stands as an analogy for the human condition. In a post-Darwin world none of us know why we exist. We are all alone. Life has no meaning. We are scared, bewildered, and vulnerable. And this is what the family suffer in what is supposed to be their sanctuary. They experience lots of strange goings on which are always vague enough to be really threatening. For example, something terrible is happening to the mother. What that is we are not quite sure. The servant turns up having been spooked, whilst the old man is suffering from a tremendous personal crisis, which cannot be explained solely by his age and blindness. All of this does contribute to an eerie atmosphere. Yet it doesn’t come near the sophistication of Pinter. Neither did the self-propelling chair convince Anna-Maria. Apparently, ‘the chair did not deliver.’
This isn’t to take away from the work of the creatives. They did serve the text to the best of their powers. John Canmore, as the blind grandfather, put in a suitably tortured performance. The designer, Jacob Hughes, genuinely managed to defamaliarise a living room. As for Benji Sperring, the director, he’d thought through both his tableauxs and the atmospherics. Finally, they all had me believing that an avenue lined with cypress trees lay just outside the window. No mean feat considering we were in a pub theatre in Angel.
Unfortunately I found The Blind to be rather a struggle. Mostly this was because it was more of the same, albeit set in a different environment. Eight unidentified and unidentifiable characters have been led out of their asylum by a priest. The priest has abandoned them. As an analogy for ‘the death of God’ this was still more transparent. All eight are blind, with the only variation upon the blind old man being that they are blindfolded. With respect to the eeriness there are flashing lights, crashing waves, screeching birds, and a hung dummy. Later we have another crying baby, too. Naturally in this situation there is a lot of anguish and desperation, lots of weeping and groaning. Sadly, much of it was mine.
To be fair it is not Maeterlinck’s fault that Beckett came along and wrote Waiting for Godot. Yet The Blind is a poor man’s version of Sam’s great masterpiece.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Blind & The Intruder runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 28th April 2013.
Box Office: 0844 412 4307 or book online at

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