I took my husband on a birthday treat this week – going to the ‘eat-in-the-dark-restaurant’, Dans le Noir. And yes, you do, really eat in the dark. Pitch blackness, fel bol buwch. Ed was a little surprised at the choice, but I had been thinking about exploring different senses in my work (could we use touch to explore fragments, what would eating in the dark for the last supper be like?), and there’s nothing wrong with a little multi-tasking, I thought.
I’d experienced that depth of darkness once before, when pot holing by mistake as a teenager. 15 of us, holding on to each other, as we listened for a little tinkling noise that was to indicate the way out of the labyrinth near Ross on Wye. I’d been surprised by how depending on others and not being able to see anything stopped me feeling claustrophobic – not being able to see made me feel body-less, almost as though I had merged completely with everything.
Eating in the dark was similar in a way – the dependence on others (our lovely waiter, Darren, who was blind), the out of body-ness, the ability to completely disappear when being quiet. But this time it was the laser-like attention that really struck us. Rather than being acutely aware of all the conversations around, by the décor, phones, people moving about, we were completely focused on our own. It wasn’t just that visual clues and distractions were removed. It just seemed impossible to tune into anything more than a very limited set of things going on around you.
Darren said that he finds it difficult to be in conversations with more than 6 people. Other blind people find the same, he said. Its interesting that this is the rule I have for ‘small group work’ when facilitating dialogue – groups over 6 can’t really work together. So I can never understand why, at weddings and so on, you get sat at those big round tables of 10. Inevitably, conversation is limited to the people each side of you because the whole table can’t really engage. A bit mean, really, when you think about it. That’s probably why they have speeches, to relieve the pressure on these one:one conversations (and wondering what the bride and groom were thinking, putting you with X or Y).
But I digress.
So there we were talking to each other better than we have – ever? – before. Ed, normally subject to more than his fair share of ums and ers, didn’t utter a single one all evening. While we undertook this conversation of a lifetime, we explored our food: I ate entirely with my fingers, and Ed, bravely, with a knife and fork (although afterwards he said he regretted that, because he really hadn’t a clue what he was eating). The square plate felt like an eccentric diamond shape, its corners drawn out into unfeasibly sharp points. Afterwards, we had fun comparing pictures of the food – and plates - with what we’d thought we were eating (being generous, we were probably about 50% correct). We were better on tastes than on layout of the food, and the plate shapes.
After a while, talk turned to what it was like to be blind, how you get about, and so on. Darren had some tips: when pouring water into a glass, use a finger poked over the side of the glass, so you can feel where the water is up to. Rely on your intuition – I noticed it was possible to sense someone standing silently a metre or more behind me.
My conclusion: on a personal and artistic basis, I definitely want to further explore the potential of the dark. And browsing National Theatre Wales’ community today, I noticed that Catherine Dyson, David Rosenberg and Glen Neath are doing 'Fiction' an auditory theatre experience in the dark. Now there’s something I want to go to.
Darren had had partial sight when he was a young child, but now could only just make out the very brightest light. We asked him what he remembered of having partial sight:
Blue, said Darren, is just the best colour, isn’t it?