Pros: looks at a range of issues and perspectives with a culturally diverse all-female cast.
Cons: Not much dance, despite being in a dance venue. Felt like it skimmed the surface of important stories. A few technical issues.
The Place is at the forefront of contemporary dance in London. As someone with very little knowledge about dance, I was apprehensive about writing this. However, matching my experience but not my expectations, the performance was much more theatre than dance. It addressed a range of themes and ideas drawing on the experiences of the Iranian-British male author: feminism, domestic responsibility/burden, motherhood, revolution, sex, bicycles and headscarves. Some of the piece’s moments were particularly poignant and personal. Other aspects lightly touched the surface of the issues raised without really addressing them.
Preceding the performance in the foyer and space around the actual theatre, students who recently graduated showcased short pieces of work on such topics as selfies, fulfilment and circus. While I didn’t feel particularly moved personally, their enthusiasm and effort is certainly commendable. This created a fun, festival atmosphere (though the main performance started fifteen minutes late).
The Place is a lovely theatre that feels intimate for its size. The dark stage was peppered with old-fashioned hoovers and appliances each lit with a small spotlight. It was a striking visual. As the performance started, three women interacted with these props in a range of ways, from cradling them like a baby to holding them like guns. They showed both affection and aggression, much like the emotional life of a vintage housewife. This sequence showed subtle influence by contemporary dance. The burden of housewifery was obvious in both movement and spoken text. There were three women of differing backgrounds, showing the universality of this existence. This theme was recurring and clear throughout the entire piece and came across with honesty and no clichés. Its repetition further emphasised the issue.
The performance was incredibly visual, though not without some technical hitches. The lighting design seemed well intentioned, but did not always suit the staging. For example, one moment had the performers’ faces in darkness whilst the rest of them was lit. In another, a light box was not big enough to light all three. The plain white background could have been used more fully to create shadows and waves of colour. A television showed clips of a Western, and I was not sure why we were watching them – but it became clear at the end. These problems were countered by stunning moments, such as creating a stationary bicycle using a small heater, a hoover full of dust and a bike. The rider’s struggle through a dust storm created with these appliances was hugely inventive and looked fantastic.
The show was non-linear, passing back and forth through time. An Iranian man marries an English woman in the present day, but Iranian women are emancipated in 1936. Several characters experience a revolution and discuss the withdrawal method of birth control. These women, though indistinct characters, still provoked audience empathy and I left the performance feeling like I gained some cultural insight. I wanted to know more about them and their experiences and felt that the performance could have gone into much more detail. I also would like to have seen more dance.
Writer/Director: Mehrdad Seyf
Producer: 30 Bird
Co-devisors/performers: Chris Dugrenier, Nicki Hobday, Sara Zaltash
Lighting Design: Oz Osborne
Box Office: 0131 560 1581
Booking Link: www.festival4.summerhall.co.uk
Booking Until: now closed at The Place, 1-23 August 2014 in Edinburgh