In medieval Japan, troupes of blind women known as ‘the goze’ would travel across the land earning a living by telling stories and performing music.
Flight Paths, the first co-production between Extant, a theatre company for visually impaired people, and British East Asian company Yellow Earth, combines the historical facts of these Japanese women with the stories of four blind artists living in present day London.
The two performers, Amelia Cavallo and Sarah Houbolt, offer personal anecdotes about their experience of living and working in the UK and negotiating a difficult Visa system that requires them to constantly be proving they are acquiring ‘skills’.
This is interwoven with filmed and audio segments of two blind musicians, Takashi Kikuchi and Victoria Oruwari, who were also born abroad – in Japan and Nigeria, respectively – but now live in the UK.
While these different narrative strands are being explored, Cavallo and Houbolt, both engaging and warm performers, gradually build up to performing a short aerial routine using silks.
There’s so much here that’s interesting, for example the problems visually impaired people face when wrestling British bureaucratic red tape, and the struggle to lead independent lives when transportation systems and other limitations of infrastructure make that next to impossible.
But the show’s ambition and reach currently make the whole piece overly complicated and, at points, a little hard to follow. That said, with so much fascinating material to hand, it seems completely plausible that, with some robust cutting and tweaking, the show could take flight.