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Damage, Rich Mix

Ninaz Khodaiji

Pros: The intimate space meant that each audience member became inescapably involved in the story.

Cons: The consistent use of one narrative style meant that momentum was sometimes lost and audience members began to visibly lose interest.

Our Verdict: A very brave and honest piece of theatre which engaged well with its audience.

Theatre is one of the greatest and most powerful platforms for voicing aspects of yourself; opinions,

Courtesy of Rich Mix

your life, your experiences – the list goes on. Having watched Damage, I’ve quickly come to understand that while this is undoubtedly the case, conveying a traumatic experience to a room full of strangers is by no means an easy way of airing your grievances. The play is written, directed and performed by Ninaz Khodaiji about the night she came home late from the theatre, and was burgled at gunpoint on her own doorstep by a man in a balaclava. Very little attention is given to the enactment of the attack itself – the bulk of the play revolves around its aftermath and the barriers Khodaiji faced in her ongoing attempts to have justice met.

Walking into the performance space, I sensed the nervousness of the other audience members. The set consisted of a large white table with about twenty empty chairs around it, the only other available seats being stools running the length of either side of the table. What was immediately obvious was that this production was going to plunge the audience right into the heart of the action, and I was nervous along with the others with this removal of distancing potential, should things get uncomfortable. We were indeed plunged right into the deep end, with the opening moments of the play marked by a man circling the table with his arm in his jacket where he was quite obviously holding a small gun.

As it unfolded, the play introduced a whole host of characters portrayed by just two actors, Emma Keele and Leo Fellan. The challenge of multiple and rapidly changing roles was well met by both. Keele, in particular, was dexterous in her adoption of different postures and accents to represent different personas with minimal prop and costume alterations. The most effective of these, perhaps, was the sudden adoption of bullet proof vests and torches in a blackened room, which was a simple but very impressive way of conveying the hostility of the police force in the eyes of Khodaiji. Besides the two supporting actors, the white-covered table and ominous tones of Simon Duff’s score are the only components of the play. At times, images were projected onto the white table cloth which, while visually interesting in its variety, contributed little to the impact of the production, as the angle of the table meant that it was difficult to determine what the images actually were.

What impressed me most about the performance is the way in which Khodaiji revealed so much of herself to the audience, letting them into her personal world. Chatting to her afterwards, Ninaz revealed that she hadn’t been on stage in twelve years, having been involved more in the production side of things, and was coping with the closeness of her audience by removing her contact lenses so our faces were a bit blurry! Sadly, she is unsure of her production’s future which, given the difficulties she’s faced putting it together (which are conveyed towards the end of the play). This piece isn’t solely about the art of performance; it’s about discovering what you expect from society and where you stand within it. Ninaz Khodiji tells the story of how she was attacked at gunpoint for petty cash, subjected to sexism from her neighbours and racism by the police force, suffered with PTSD and is still fighting to have her voice heard. This production has been cathartic and that, in the last couple of weeks of rehearsal, the symptoms of anxiety she had been experiencing in the years since her attack have started to disappear. This, I think, is the true power of theatre.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Sadly, Damage is no longer running but you can find more information about other productions running at Rich Mix here: http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/damage/

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