“I believe I can feel the moonlight on my hands.” (The Young Blind Girl)
The stage directions for Maeterlinck’s third play focus toward ‘…the deepest shadows…an ancient PRIEST, wrapped in an ample black robe. His head and torso, tilted back a little and deathly still, are leaning against the trunk of an enormous hollow oak. His face, with its violet lips parted, is of a changeless waxon pallor. His expressionless staring eyes no longer look at the visible world…’ He is flanked by his charges, six robed blind men and women. Thinking he’s gone ahead, they are waiting for him to return them home. It’s one of the great set-ups in drama – as they sit, chatter, waste time and worry, the audience sees the desperation of their situation from the curtain rise.
“We’ve never seen each other. We ask each other questons, and we answer them; we live together, we’re always together, but we don’t know what we are!” (The Oldest Blind Man)
Appreciated at a distance, feared at close quarters, the island hosting their hospice seems a bloundless wild kingdom to them – flowers and thorns, dead leaves, falling night and – as they face the end – falling snow. “The centre stage is held by a dead man, and the others characters’ fear of approaching death and their powerlessness to prevent it forms the central intrigue of the play.” (Maya Slater)
Toward the close of action, having realised the full seriousness of their situation, squabbling over what they can possibly do, some start to hear a woman’s skirt approaching – and the only sighted person in the group – a ‘Madwoman’s baby’ seems to cry in response. The audience see nothing, even as the blind become convinced the footsteps have stopped in their midst. What this might mean – whether a personification of death, a suggestion there are things the sighted audience can no more see than those lost on the island – must be passed over. The baby cries as the curtain falls.
“I can hear the waves, so close I could dip my hands in! We musn’t stay here! The waves could be all around us!” (Second Man Born Blind)