The Devil’s Ship
3 stars ***
THIS LATEST WORK by the controversial Iranian director Attila Pessyani is a single, sombre, elegant brush-stroke of a show, which makes its point slowly but with absolute clarity, over a muted yet ground-breaking hour of Iranian theatre. Recalling and reworking some of the most profound archetypal images of women in drama, from Greek tragedy to Synge and Lorca, The Devil’s Ship portrays a group of five women – a middle-aged mother, two young widows, two teenage younger sisters – living on a remote island, and mourning the loss of the mother’s son, evocatively called Ismael. His young widow – beautiful, restless, educated – has fallen in love with another man, who is to come for her tonight, while the Persian moon forms its once-in-fifteen-years image of a “devil’s ship” sailing on the horizon. But there are rumours that her lover caused the death of her husband, and she increasingly questions whether her happiness lies with him, or with this family of women.
Performed in whispered, irritatingly inaudible Farsi, with English surtitles, the show proceeds through a mixture of simple, direct dialogue, tremendously powerful gesture, and occasional haunting plays of cinematic flickering light over the faces of the women, as they turn towards the possibility of change and escape. Moving around the stage in their heavy veils – although usually with their faces fully visible – the women brush and tend the sandy graves that surround them, unwind pieces of fabric, bury their hopes; sometimes, startlingly, they produce a little radio or i-pod, harbingers of the fast-changing world beyond. The performances are hauntingly powerful, the conclusion as moving a statement of female solidarity and hope as I’ve seen for many a year; and if the style of the show is too funereal and restrained to appeal to more than minority tastes, to see The Devil’s Ship sail is still a hugely enriching experience.
Until 27 August