While musicals can be a hit-or-miss affair, those that are grounded in real events often bring something extra to the table, with accompanying critical and commercial success. With a track record of successful musicals based on real events such as Titanic and Grey Gardens, Charing Cross Theatre’s current artistic director Thom Sutherland has another hit on his hands.
With an original French book and lyrics by Sébastien Lancrenon, music by Jean-Baptiste Saudra and an English translation by Ranjit Bolt, The Braille Legacy traces the development of the embossed dot reading system that is used around the world which bears Braille’s name. Originally the brainchild of Captain Charles Barbier De La Serre (Michael Remick), a rudimentary version of the ‘Braille’ system is bequeathed to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. It eventually finds itself with Braille – a precocious student who is anything but meek and mild, and whose mouth often leads him to being reprimanded.
Strong emotions are prominent in The Braille Legacy, largely driven by the character arcs of Gabriel Gauthier (Jason Broderick) and Braille (Jack Wolfe). And while the likes of Doctor Pignier (Jérôme Pradon) and Madame Demeziere (Ceili O’Connor) endeavour to educate the children and offer the children every opportunity that will facilitate their development, the Machiavellian schemes of Pignier’s deputy, Monsieur Dafau (Ashley Stillburn) undermines their progress as he tries to reinstate his own Utilitarist agenda… The depiction of French cultural attitudes in the play towards blindness and for those afflicted are simultaneously alarming and familiar, as they mirror the arguments and policies regarding the disabled today.
If one had to make a critical observation, it is that a large proportion of the adults that make up the cast are peripheral figures who the audience don’t emotionally engage with or fully know. As a straight play, there would have been more time to explore this avenue, but it is a trade-off that often occurs in musicals and it could be argued that it is people who are immediately known to Braille who have more developed characters.
At a time when jukebox musicals or shows based on well-known books and films are all the rage, The Braille Legacy is a refreshing change – a tale about the indomitable human spirit.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Braille Legacy runs at Charing Cross Theatre until 24th June 2017.