Ovidian themes were central to Stephen Poliakoff’s Blinded by the Sun, directed
by Peter Leslie Wild. The rise to power of Albie (Alex Jennings), a relatively ungifted, administratively efficient member
of the department upsets the cosy traditional work practices of the rest of the staff and provides the motor for the action
of the play. Along the way there is an important scientific discovery which turns out to be a hoax. Poliakoff satirizes popular
science and we are invited to ponder the mystical nature of the creative process, and the futile desires of human beings to
understand what it involves. Like Icarus, we often fly too close to the sun.
Poliakoff often shines a light, be it at times only a dim one, on contentious contemporary
topics. The conflict between academia and the free market priorities which govern its practices today is certainly one of
these. But ultimately the play is less than illuminating. A major flaw centres on the character of Albie. The author confuses
cost cutting, job slashing Thatcherism in the colleges with the popularizing of science. Al reorganises the science department,
sacking his old teacher Elinor (Harriet Walter) along the way, uncovers fraud and writes popular books which bring complex
ideas to a mass audience. Focusing all three of these largely unconnected themes in the personality of one character fatally
muddles consideration of each.
Maybe there was a scientific fraud perpetrated in the play, maybe there wasn't, the
author clumsily suggested in the production’s dying minutes. Can we actually know? Does it really matter? Blinded By the Sun offers a forum to pontificate about how mysterious and unknowable all the world - even
science - is. But as a piece of drama it tended to pall.