Eye for an Eye
Dorna Arts Group (PUSH Festival)
The PUSH Festival gives audiences the chance to try shows that do not fit comfortably within the mainstream. However, Ali Aminipour’s Eye for an Eye comes from Persia and the cultural differences between the place of origin and the UK are so extreme as to make the show something of a puzzle for western audiences with limited background knowledge.
Eye for an Eye is a fable / morality tale; a despotic ruler attributes his restlessness to the fact it is three days since he administered his particularly brutal form of justice: gouging out the eyes of offenders. He sets out to find a culprit to punish but is stymied by his own ignorance as prospective victims are able to deflect blame onto other people. The King finally finds a victim leaving the audience to wonder if they have witnessed the administration of justice or tyranny.
Eye for an Eye is performed in Persian with English surtitles but the barriers to appreciation and comprehension are more cultural than language-based. It is hard to determine the age range of the target audience for the play. The fairy tale storyline and lack of nuance and subtlety suggests it might be aimed at young people. The moralising is heavy-handed with the cast stepping out of character and addressing the audience directly to demand they consider the political points set out in the play.
The cast do not seem confident in their abilities and the standard of acting is hesitant and inconsistent. A character maimed in an early scene seems to recover his sight towards the conclusion. Ali Aminipour directs in addition to writing the play and his style is broad so there is little tension and no sense of anger growing against the unjust King. It brings to mind the parodies by the late Victoria Wood where characters wander unconvincingly in the background of scenes or freeze to emphasise dramatic moments.
Music is a very important part of Eye for an Eye which leads to the most puzzling aspect of the play. In Shakespeare’s period, it was traditional to end plays with a dance. Eye for an Eye concludes with the cast stepping out of character to sing a rousing traditional folk song; one wonders whether this is typical of plays in Persian culture. Persian-speaking patrons seem to regard the song as the high point of the evening singing along and applauding wildly but it is very hard to see an emotional connection between the song and the preceding storyline.
The lack of any background information in the programme that might help people unaware of Persian theatrical traditions appreciate certain aspects of the play means that, for some audience members, Eye for an Eye is confusing rather than an interesting chance to experience something from a different culture.