Pros: Spine-tingling musical numbers performed by a masterly ensemble of adults and children.
Cons: A slightly monstrous structure dominates the stage and the exceptional children could have been used more.
There is something quite special about knowing you are about to see a brand new musical in the West End. Especially in the Charing Cross Theatre, which is a gorgeous, cosy venue underneath the station of the same name. The trains tremble the roof just enough for you to be reminded that you’re watching a performance beneath the busy commuter-life above, but not enough to distract you from your show. The Braille Legacy follows a group of blind children and the life they lead in the under-resourced ‘Institute of the Blind in Paris’ in the 1800s. It tells the story of Louis, the courageous inventor of Braille, as he commits himself to perfect a new reading method for the blind.
The opening note sung by one of the children’s ensemble made me burst into tears and I knew then I would be in for an emotional night. The strength of the ensemble is one of the most impressive things about this production, and even the most hardened musical-sceptic would struggle not to be carried away by the heavenly cornucopia of harmonies that the company create together. The orchestra were similarly flawless: I had to check my programme to make sure it was a live band.
Jack Wolfe’s portrayal of Louis Braille is delightful. The tone of his speaking voice alone is so easy to listen to. He has the aura of an excellent storyteller, and you want to walk through every scene by his side. A strong lead in an emotionally driven musical is a necessity, and Wolfe’s ability to win you over in milliseconds strengthens the entire show. He is accompanied by an equally joyful ensemble of children. Jason Broderick as Gabriel Gauthier presents a worthy supporting character, and an equally believable one. I can’t find the right metaphor to describe his voice….but it would involve honey and angels and heaven. I adore the children as a whole. My only criticism would be that they are highly underused. Their stage presence is constant, but they often sit on the side-lines. ‘Big and Small’ is the only song they sing unaccompanied by adults – and it’s paradise. With such talent at their disposal, it seems wasteful to not use them more.
The adult cast provide an array of impressive performances. Jérôme Pradon’s Doctor Pignier is a character full of moral complexities; he facilitates many of the positive milestones throughout the narrative, but there is also a sense of realistic resignation to him. Ceili O’Connor as Madame Demézière, the matron at the Institute, is comfortingly maternal but is not derivative in her portrayal. There are no weak links in this cast.
The Charing Cross Theatre is an unusual theatre, in the best possible way, but the staging of the show highlights that the stage is quite small. The whole production is set on a bulky two-storey framework, all in white, with a staircase and railings. The set is so colossal that too much of the action takes place within the front two metres of the stage. The small amount of floor space left is, however, ingeniously used and cleverly choreographed by Lee Proud. But the show would benefit from this leading the movement of the show, rather than the cast having to awkwardly shift such a large set so frequently.
As a whole, The Braille Legacy is an emotive, extra-sensory experience. I’m positive that it will open theatre up further for blind audiences, and successfully so. The show heightens the senses on every level, and moments of it are absolutely transcendental.
Director: Thom Southerland
Producers: Laurent Carrié, Kayla Hain with Colbert Entertainment LTD
Running until: 24th June 2017
Box Office: 08444 930 650