Blind Hamlet (Edinburgh Fringe)
An intriguing premise fizzles out in Nassim Soleimanpour's new play
Nassim Soleimanpour is clearly fond of a good theatrical game. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit played with what is necessary for a piece of theatre, doing away with set and director and recruiting a different actor for each performance. Blind Hamlet, produced by the Actors' Touring Company, continues in a similar vein, beginning with a message on a dictaphone from the playwright and ending with a game conducted between audience members.
Where the form of Soleimanpour's last play was prompted by his inability to leave Iran, Blind Hamlet is a response – or at least so we are told – to his failing eyesight. In a play that relentlessly juggles truth and lies, it becomes difficult to know what to trust.
The series of recorded messages that guide the piece, played through a microphone set up on stage by the stage manager, begin just before an appointment with the optometrist and follow the playwright's attempt to accept his impending blindness and get to the end of reading Hamlet. All the while, audience members are summoned on stage, standing in for images and ideas in Soleimanpour's text.
The piece sets out with a fistful of intriguing, difficult thoughts, which one by one slip from its grasp. There are questions in there about what theatre can and can't hold, how much we can strip away before something stops being theatre, what the role is of text and author, and to what extent justice operates with impaired vision. If you're wondering where Hamlet comes in, there is a parallel between the flawed justice system that we see on stage through the final game and Hamlet's own fumbled attempts at retribution, but otherwise the Bard's text is very much a background presence.
The experience itself is engaging enough, but it's hard to fight the suspicion that it is all ultimately a little empty. As it goes on, the spark of the initial conceit increasingly fizzles out, leaving little more than an interactive parlour game.
Blind Hamlet runs at Assembly Roxy until 25 August
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