Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blind Hamlet

Regular readers will remember my beef with Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play whose popularity seemed based on its manipulation of the West's already misguided perception regarding Iran and a fairly flimsy gimmick.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was spectacularly successful, playing globally and on some big theatres. So what was said in that play, particularly about Iran, was important. But - that damage is done.

Soleimanpour's follow-up Blind Hamlet, playing a full Edinburgh Fringe run, will probably not be as successful - but it's in many ways a better play. The audience arrive to a stage manager setting up a mic next to a tape-recorder, and Soleimanpour's voice wafts out, explaining that he's losing his sight.

The play proceeds from this spectatorship of a machine into a series of theatre games, ringmastered by Soleimanpour via the tape-recorder, that are loosley related to Hamlet, using the audience as participants (in a reference to WR,RR). The games centre around the ideas of death and vision. It's revealing of an occasionally insightful, occasionally callous, reading of Hamlet - but it's one that's never without contemplation.

The strength of the play is its metaphor of vision. There is plenty of textual evidence in Hamlet to support this reading, not in the least Hamlet's own 'darkness'. Indeed, light is a continual reference point throughout, colouring the perceptions of the characters, as well as defining what is seen or not seen. There's a reason why it's referred to as a play about theatre, and the link between light, the stage, and human existence is key to this.

Soleimanpour gets plenty of milage from this metaphor, and could well have got a lot more - but then suddenly he makes what I think is definitely a mistake, one that (yet again) has some consequences. The writer's feigning of his own death was unjustified and left many audience shocked, I think mostly because it was so unneccessary. There's no dramatic excuse for it in the play. A writer declaring to the audience that he's dead might be justifiable in certain circumstances, but it would certainly take a slight hand to pull it off.

Clear communication with audience is neccessary if that's to be acheived, and Soleimanpour's hand not nearly slight enough here.

Still - this comes across as an experiment gone wrong that's morally forgivable. And Blind Hamlet, unlike White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, contains a lot that points at a writer of real ambition - and real potential to change theatre.

Blind Hamlet
by Nassim Soleimanpour with director Ramin Gray
with Jacob Corn

Assembly Roxy
until 25th August

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