Amidst the modern renaissance of poetry, Ellen Renton’s Within Sight joins a wave of young voices discussing representation of marginalised groups. The show focuses on Renton’s experience living with albinism, her narrowly missing out on being picked for the 400m Paralympic team and her subsequent struggle in coping with failure, pain and daily social interaction. The performance does walk the line of being repetitive, but bearing in mind that the show is performed solely by Renton, a projector and a recording of her voice, she does an excellent job of constructing an effective social commentary out of extended footage of herself running.
The show is performed by two consciousnesses: one is Renton on stage, the other is a recording of her voice. These two voices rarely converse or converge, which can at times make the performance feel slightly too discordant and elongated. However, the few powerful moments where these voices do merge regain the momentum and emotional charge of the show. Most importantly, Renton’s poetry is down to earth and well-constructed, making the show accessible even for those who aren’t avid readers of poetry.
Renton begins the performance with a light joke about the seemingly pathetic rebellion of wearing earphones on a run despite her reliance on her hearing due to her impaired vision. This sets the tone of the show, which takes its time to highlight how small events can feel like celestial collisions: crossing the road becomes a teetering cliff-edge, and seeing her first Paralympics on TV feels like someone speaking to her in the same language for the first time.
Furthermore, despite the experience she describes to the audience being so unusual, Renton manages to make the narrative immersive and relatable, both easy to understand and to watch. Although the show does include a fair amount of clichés associated with modern performance poetry, there is a sense of self-awareness in her performance, shown as she skewers how well ‘diversity sells’ in one segment. This makes Renton’s performance reassuringly unapologetic: there is no bargaining with the audience or attempt to pander to them in return for a listening ear. Indeed, she happily challenges the audience on their perception of her, at one point joking tongue-in-cheekily that some of the audience will be watching just to fulfil their ‘good deed for the week.’ Although there is the potential for this ridicule of the audience to become uncomfortable, it is handled with an honest and warm sense of humour that allows the audience to laugh at themselves.
Overall the show is an enjoyable piece of storytelling, and while the performance isn’t perhaps as ground-breaking or challenging as Renton’s life has been, the narrative is strong and easy to engage with. With what is perhaps the most effective part of the performance, Renton finishes by turning a mirror of questions onto the audience themselves, asking if they have been just watching or truly seeing, which hopefully leaves the audience, as the title suggests, with insight.
Image: Bibi June Schwithal