Yesterday, I was in the midst of magic as the children from Edinburgh’s Royal Blind School took me on an odyssey. Actually, they took me on ‘The Odyssey’, which was the basis for their annual Christmas Show. These young people live with visual impairments, many have additional support needs and complex multiple disabilities. Watching them, I truly forgot about their disability as they acted out a wealth of ability, and put on a show of unforgettable joy. The narrator – a cat in a boat – transported the audience from the sports hall to ancient Greece. We were told there would be calm before the storm, and a then lot of storm before the calm. The grand metaphor for life had begun!
It opened with a group of extraordinary young people and their helpers using all of their senses to follow the glow of the moon orbiting the stage, feeling the gentle pummel of the sea in the rolling sensation of little massage balls on their bodies, sensing the stars from music played on wind instruments held so close that the notes reverberated through them. These stars would guide Odysseus home, helping him navigate his way through arduous tests. No less arduous are the challenges that these young people have steered a course through, and here they all were, assembled for an 80-minute spectacular with the core message that each one of them was the captain of their own soul. Many of the school’s teachers and helpers were on stage with them, but it was clear to me who the real teachers were as we watched the show.
True to Homer’s story, Odysseus, Antonia and Stavros are bound for home after the War of Troy, but they must choose the right path to avoid man-eating cyclops’, marauding and drinking pirates, and tempting sirens. Homer’s version can be bettered, I have discovered, with the inclusion of Elvis (whose life isn’t better with a bit of Elvis?) who showed up, with his roadie, to offer Odysseus advice before he set sail. Elvis had wise words on how to be a good person, how to be a true king, how to follow the impulses of one’s heart. The ‘King of Rock ’n Roll’ was back and singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ in the Blind School, and Lewis Shaw totally rocked it!
With this good advice under his belt, Odysseus and his pals set forth. They outwitted the teenage dirt-bag cyclops’s who were planning to make a pie out of them. They converted the reckless, mean, bad-to-the bone, cut-throat, nasty pirates, setting them on a path of kindness. How the sirens didn’t knock Odysseus and his travelling companions off course with their rendition of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, I will never know. Oh yes, they were wearing seasonal ear-muffs to mute their song! Meanwhile back at home, Odysseus’ faithful wife, Penelope, was waiting. ‘One Candle Lights The Way’, sang Namarra, who played Penelope. No ear-muffs required, she was marvellous. As was Stephen (pupil), who shape-shifted from his role, playing teenage dirt-bag into a virtuoso flute player.
An all-staff number of ‘All You Need Is Love’ (requiring audience participation in with the – ba-da-da-da-das) rolled into ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, led by volunteer Theo, on sax, who slowly circulated around the Lotus Eaters. Coloured lights and a huge silk parachute enveloped them all in loving kindles as they sang together, standing close, all as one. At one point Theo played one-handed as a child would not let go of his hand – I was touched by their touch.
Close to the end Antonia (Amy MaKenzie) sang The Beatles’ ‘Long And Winding Road’, accompanied by Odysseus himself (Aiden Murray) on the drums. Her song rang out, “Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried / Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried / And still they lead me back to the long and winding road.” Whose life has not been an odyssey? We are all beset by a series of wanderings, adventures, long and winding roads, filled with memories to tell the grandchildren, challenges and hardships you think you mightn’t find your way out of – but here you are, still standing, maybe even in blues suede shoes! Congratulations to everyone at the Royal Blind School for your brilliance, artistry, talent, inspiration; for your ability to uplift, for showing us which road to choose.