Monday 11 August 2014

Blind Hamlet – Assembly Roxy

[seen 05/08/14]

[no decent image. someone nip into the venue and just take an arty shot of the empty stage and dictaphone with their iPhone?  Thanks!]

Blind Hamlet is Nassim Soleimanpour’s follow-up to his massively acclaimed Fringe (and elsewhere) hit, Red Rabbit/White Rabbit (which I’ve still not gotten round to seeing). The external shtick around RR/WR was that Soleimanpour couldn’t leave his native Iran – you can’t get a passport there without having completed national service, apparently – and so wanted to make a show/production which could travel without him. Not having seen it, I’m not really sure how it differs from emailing a script, but there we go. It was dead popular and seemed to say some things about the situation of an artist who wasn’t able to leave their own country by their government.

Since then, thanks to a deteriorating eye condition, the government of Iran has relented on his ban on Soleimanpour’s travelling. Indeed, I met him myself at the Internationales Forum at this year’s Theatertreffen, where it was incredibly funny to watch him effectively explain to Omar Elerian that the entire access policy of the Bush was bullshit (there was some a bit more nuance than that, but not a lot).

The deal with Blind Hamlet, thanks to to eye condition, is that he’s made this piece by speaking into a dictaphone (or whatever they’re called these days) about Hamlet. It’s his father’s old dictaphone and the piece begins with his father reading “To be of not to be...” in Farsi. I don’t know how true any of this is, but it’s what the dictaphone tells us. The dictaphone also tells us that Soleimanpour is in Moscow getting treatment for his eyes. Possibly the dictaphone is lying. There’s a point close to the end where the play stops and the stage manager reads out a notice that says Soleimanpour died in a car crash before finishing the play. Now, I happen to now for a fact that this isn’t true, so, while it’s an entertaining way of wrapping up your play – and certainly it got a nice wave of shock round the audience with which I saw it – it does also cast increasing doubt on the veracity of anything else that you’ve said into the microphone. I’m reasonable sure, for example, that the words he puts into the mouth of “handsome playwright from Manchester” Simon Stephens were almost certainly never spoken by Simon. Not least, because Simon would have probably put him straight about Stockport before continuing.

So, yes, what we’ve got in Blind Hamlet is a dictaphone in a spotlight on a nondescript chair, on a rather nicely designed and lit stage (directed by Ramin Gray, no designers credited) – not a million miles off the set for ATC’s The Events last year – which gradually brings a total of seven audience members on stage for a game of Mafia (you know, that game where one (two here) person is the murderer, someone else is the policeman, see also: wink murder).

Annoyingly, there’s a more-or-less total disconnect between many of the individual thoughts here. The reflections on Hamlet are interesting and diverting enough. The various games that the audience members play on stage are also entertaining (although, on the day I saw it, the participants ranged from a bit too embarrassed to actually too dense for the games to work 100%). But none of it really adds up to a whole. I’m a big fan of just putting a bunch of stuff on stage and letting the audience make its own connections, but here it feels like either Soleimanpour believes it all adds up in a way it doesn’t, or else the way the show works makes it feel like we should perceive active, workable links between the various elements which either aren’t really there or that I missed. As such, just making our own connections seems somehow more unavailable than usual, and I’m not quite sure why that is. Perhaps because the things made available to us to draw the connections between simply refuse to tessellate in a satisfactory way. Which is a shame. I’d have quite liked to have got more out of what is definitely a interesting premise or two, but it feels like it still needs another re-write/re-think before it fully hits its mark.

 [I reckon, fwiw, it needs either more Hamlet or more blindness or more Iran or more theatre or all four, and tied together with a slightly stronger conclusion – although, the random elements; the unpredictability of the participants, also possibly want a few more failsafes built in. If the game is to be the conclusion, then either its result should be rigged – which seems possible that it is – but then that conclusion perhaps needs to speak to something else in the piece. Or, if someone already thinks it does, then what it’s speaking to should at least be reasonably apparently to a critic of average intelligence while they’re watching...]

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I totally agree with Andrew. I know a little about Iranian culture and history and the fact that author came from Shiraz was irrelevant. So was the fact that he was in Moscow! I am no stranger to alternative theatre, as was my friend who I brought to the show (she's from Glasgow) but we felt cheated not only of the £28 we paid to be involved in this desperate charade but the fact that we were told the author had been killed in a car crash in Tehran. AND HE HADN'T. That is the worse crime of all - cheating your audience.