Looking At Tazieh
5 stars *****
IN THE MAIN HALL at The Hub, the audience sit crossed-legged on a floor covered in beautiful Persian rugs. In front of us, a triptych of screens offers three perspectives on a performance of Tazieh – a traditional Shia Muslim passion-play, depicting the violent death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed – in a provincial town in contemporary Iran. The large black-and white screen on the left shows the faces of the women in the audience, sitting on the upper tier of the outdoor Tazieh arena; the screen on the right shows the men and boys, sitting below. And in the middle, a smaller screen, in colour, shows the performance itself, a spectacular religious epic with heroes, villains and horses, powerful live music, and a thrilling alternation of verse monologue and song.
It’s not a theatre show, in other words, this superb masterpiece by the great Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami; but it is an event profoundly about theatre, and about the nature of shared cultural experience. Over 77 minutes, we watch the magnificently varied faces of the audience as they gradually become drawn into the drama, weeping, covering their faces, gently beating their breasts in sorrow. And as we watch, Kiarostami seems to offer us infinite space, among the three screens, to reflect on what we are watching.
Looking At Tazieh reminds us, for example, of the roots of our own western theatre in similar passion-play rituals. It compels us to reflect on the faith that draws communities together in communal experience, and on the deep cultural consequences of the loss of that faith, in the shift to modernity. And above all, it emphasises the thrilling interplay of difference and common humanity that both divides us in the west from this devout Muslim community, and unites us in the profound human search for meaning and catharsis. This is, I think, one of the most magisterially brilliant works of art ever shown at an Edinburgh Festival; and the chance to see it is a privilege, not to be missed.
Final performance today, 6.00 p.m.
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