One of the most rewarding parts about going to the theatre, or studying any sort of valid artistic accomplishment, is that you often come away having learned something. Frequently, this education comes in the form of being exposed to an unfamiliar topic, or one that you had once thought you were well versed in. At its best, art has the intoxicating genius to lend us the courage to conduct a few moments of self-examination and assess where we might better ourselves if we followed a different path or worldview.
The key focus of Within Sight, a one-woman show by writer and performer Ellen Renton, is albinism. Stemming from this rarely discussed topic are issues related to identity and prejudice, which Renton approaches through the tale of a disabled athlete who has been knocked back from the Paralympics team. Through her own personal experience with albinism, Renton leads her audience on a hour-long run through lush green parks and lively town centres, in a society that still sees the disability instead of the person.
Within Sight is clearly a passion project for its creator and, through that alone, it deserves admiration. It takes courage to put yourself out there and lay bare what many would wish to remain hidden about themselves. Yet along with her struggles, Renton reveals a passionate and talented artist worthy of serious attention and love.
There are truths set out for us about the condition, much to the relief of those who may feel awkward about knowing very little about albinism. It’s more than an educational hour, though. It is Renton’s recalling of the emotional and practical challenges set out by an unthinking (and often uncaring) world that strike the hardest. The humour that Renton discovers in the most difficult of situations is a testament to her character, and any wounds she may have received – recently or further afield – are licked into submission by her poetic- and wit-inspired tongue.
The piece does trip when the anger starts to flow, becoming drunkenly presumptuous and accusatory about those she is talking to, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth as the show comes to a close. Perhaps it is warranted – no doubt the artist has earned her frustrations – but her diatribes verge on bitterness and become disappointing.
By the end, there is the applause a great performer and poet deserves. Much has been learned and thoughts will undoubtedly blossom as contemplation creeps, not so softly, toward the conscience. A more courageous and spiritually generous conclusion would perhaps have had more value than assumed. Still, this does not take too much away from what is, undeniably, a heartfelt and high-level piece of work.