REVIEW: The Pit and the Pendulum (Omnibus Theatre) ★★★
This innovative take on the Edgar Allen Poe classic transfers the action to contemporary Tehran as an Iranian political dissident tries to come to terms with the sensory deprivation of her solitary confinement.
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh plays the unnamed woman who has been imprisoned for removing her hijab in a public place as part of a protest against female oppression. Her only company is the imaginary voice of Edgar Allen Poe, narrating his famous tale in parallel to her experience. She also contends with the eponymous pit and swinging pendulum, as well as giant rats, the imagined cries of her daughter and her fear of failure, in order to make this stand on behalf of her sisters. She flashes back to her university days to latch on to her feminist criticism of Poe’s work as well as other cultural reference points of the imperial patriarchy such as Star Wars.
Writer/Director Christopher York has created an interesting approach to adapting a well-known tale in collaboration with his star and the wit and passion in his script is both enjoyable and powerful. However, a large chunk of the script in is another language, presumably Farsi, and it is a shame that those without a knowledge of that language are excluded from it’s meaning.
Being the only actor on stage might have presented a challenge to Dehrouyeh but she attacks the piece with energy, charm and considerable emotional range. Her interaction with the unseen voice of Poe creates genuine humour whilst the depth of her grief for the child taken from her feels both real and moving.
However, what lets the production down is an attempt to be technologically innovative that does not deliver sufficient punch. The audience is issued with headphones and all the sound is provided through those devices in an attempt to include us in the sensory deprivation. Unfortunately, the headphones do not even effectively block out the noise from the bar next door, never mind giving anyone a sense they too are trapped. It might have been much simpler and more effective to create a more sinister atmosphere through traditional sound design. It would certainly have been more comfortable for the audience.
The design by Dan Parry is suitably bleak and the projected images by video designer Eva Auster, including some from the Iranian animated film Persepolis, add an interesting touch but this doesn’t create an atmosphere that is going to strongly affect the audience. This production is described as immersive it really is not in any meaningful way.
Anyone expecting a psychologically challenging experience, or even an attempt to recreate the fear in Poe’s story is likely to be disappointed but there is an opportunity to see a talented young actor at work with a decent script for her to showcase her skills.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington