Produced by Actors Touring Company [ATC] Blind Hamlet is currently doing the rounds on a nationwide tour. Written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, best known for his work White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, Colin Hambrook looks at how the author plays with theatrical convention using an exemplary charm and wit to explore metaphors on ‘sight’ and 'truth'
There have been several reviews of Nassim Soleimanpour’s Blind Hamlet since it's being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer. Whilst many have talked about the writing having little but an oblique reference to the bard’s classic, few have gone into much, if any detail about the central theme of the play, which is the writer’s experience of losing his sight.
Soleimanpour’s voice is heard via a dictaphone talking about his experience of colour, describing his sight as like looking through frosted glass. He tells the story of a bomb-shattered window, held together by tape, in his home looking across Tehran. And he gives us an image of how his sight is fractured, like the experience of looking through that window.
Soleimanpour ‘sees red’ and exemplifies the predominance of the colour by asking the audience to place hands over eyes whilst we become immersed in blinding stage lights. And he talks about his experience in hospital, the invasion of having injections in his eyes.
He philosophises on his sense of going through these experiences: “there is no good or bad”, he says, “except for how we are drawn to think about it.”
Soleimanpour loves theatrical game-playing and tells us that his ambition is to thwart conventions of theatre by doing away with actors, directors, and even writers, just leaving the audience to talk among themselves. “What fun that would be”, he says.
And then, with the help of a stage director he begins to call audience members up on stage to play theatrical games. At the core of the scenario that Soleimanpour sets up is a subtle attempt to get his audience to think about the metaphors that the non-disabled world associates with ‘sight’ - e.g. wisdom, knowledge, and psychological strength. To be ‘blind’ is to be ignorant, emotionally and intellectually decrepit and to lack ‘visibility’ - hence Soleimanpour’s presence is an invisible one.
Soleimanpour toys with these universal prejudices - and in the light of what is happening in Iran with the latest news about the four hapless students accused of obscenity and apostasy for waving their arms and bodies around to the tune of Pharrell Williams' Happy - comes the thought that there are political undertones to Blind Hamlet that are perhaps difficult for a secular audience to appreciate.
We cannot be certain that anything Soleimanpour tells us is true. This is the kind of theatre that Antonin Artaud staged in the 1930s in his efforts to make his audience realise what fools they were. The difference is that Soleimanpour achieves this with an exemplary charm and wit that beguiles and entertains, rather than assaults.
Blind Hamlet continues its tour with the following dates.
18 SEP: The North Wall (Oxford)
21 SEP: Gulbenkian (Kent)
24 SEP: Mac (Birmingham)
8 OCT: Cambridge Junction
9 OCT: Lincoln Performing Arts Centre