Thursday, December 04, 2008

Quartet: A Journey North

I saw this Iranian production at the Barbican last night. It's the second of their Iranian season I've caught, and much more exciting than last week's rather under-powered Daedalus and Icarus. Quartet: A Journey North is the work of Amir Reza Koohestani and his company Mehr: I really liked his piece Amid the Clouds at the Royal Court a while back. This time, his love of narration and the need to avoid any physical contact between actors for cultural reasons is taken to a new extreme. In the Pit space, the audience is seated on four sides, with one actor at a desk facing each side, narrating very intimately. You can't even see the actor who faces the opposite side, and you get limited views of the two on adjacent sides. However, each actor is facing directly into a video camera, and they have screens above their heads, so you can see the face of the speaker, as well as footage which locates the play in the Iranian landscape. It sounds odd, but in fact it serves to draw you in to an incredibly intense level of performance. Even in Persian. The screens, of course, are the ideal solution to the surtitle problem.

This may depend a bit on where you're sitting. I was facing a performer called Mahin Sadri, who is also the co-author of the piece. It's based on a documentary film she made about an Iranian murderer - so oddly resonant for me at the moment, as I work with Central students on a verbatim piece about a killer. Mahin is an astonishing performer, and the intimacy of the presentation makes her feel very real, very immediate. It's a huge shock when, towards the end, she simply stands up and walks away, while her screen avatar remains talking. You realise that they've switched to pre-recorded footage - but the shift away from the live is so subtle that it reminds you how deeply we care about liveness, and how close our current society is to losing it.

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