Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Fall of the Peacock Throne

Written and directed by Chris Lee
Wildbird
Southwark Playhouse
(2009)

Production photo

Important and challenging political theatre is taking place at the always atmospheric Southwark Playhouse in the disappointing Fall of the Peacock Throne, as Scotland's Wildbird presents the story of the 1953 CIA coup in Iran. Playwright and director Chris Lee has juxtaposed this narrative with that of Alexander's conquest in 336 BC with the entire piece cleverly narrated by the goddess of war, Athena.

In an overlong production, Lee draws parallels between the plight of Alexander's invasion of Persia, with the less publicised US and British take-over of Iran. Ian Hanmore plays both the overthrown Darius III of Persia as well as the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq (not very clearly). He is haunted and questioned by a vixen-like Athena (Catriona-Lexy Campell), dressed in sexy-secretary get-up and a eerie silver face, with three other men morphing between mobsters, politicians and ambassadors as we edge towards the demise of Mossadeq who valiantly strives to keep Iranian oil in the hands of his nation.

The character of Athena as our guide through the play is a fantastic idea yet, unfortunately, what could have been an insightful and complex relationship with the audience and the characters at play, instead becomes a two-dimensional and straightforward narration.

Throughout the course of two hours we are witness to a plethora of ideas, styles and images which never quite gel together to make a satisfying whole. Unnecessary projections of Athena's face and marching crowds at each end of the traverse stage are juxtaposed with dense duologues and cringe-inducing attempts at physical theatre.

Each scene is bookended with the frustratingly repetitive sounds of a camera whirring and 80's tinged visuals whilst Lee's composition and fractured scenes deter the audience from gleaning enough information to make the piece satisfying. Frustratingly so, as there is a very juicy (not to mention an extremely relevant) story of the corruption at the heart of British and US politics.

Wildbird's production attempts to cover too much in far too many styles, and in doing so results in a messy and unclear production.

At times the piece lifts itself out of its monotony - a bizarre rendition of "Luck Be a Lady" is refreshing and disturbing - but overall the piece lacks the energy and clarity to pack the punch it sets out to do. If only Wildbird had embraced the wry humour of their final line "Athena is alive and well and having fun."

Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan