Christopher York’s metatheatrical reimagining of The Pit and the Pendulum transposes its central characters’ dire fate on an unnamed but real-life Iranian activist.
When a peaceful Iranian protestor becomes a prisoner, she (meta-theatrically) finds herself in Christopher York’s one-woman reimagining of The Pit and the Pendulum. Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, this Creation Theatre production transposes this dire fate on an unnamed but real-life activist – imprisoned for defying her country’s regime and its expectations of women. York presents the prisoner as an intelligent woman determined to take control of her destiny, even as she faces the possibility of death.
Handed headphones upon entry, it becomes clear that part of Creation’s experience involves listening to live dialogue between the lead (Afsaneh Dehrouyeh) and Poe, the narrator (voice acting by Nicholas Osmond) – mixed with intermittent pre-recorded sounds. One wonders how necessary the ‘headphones’ element really is to the show’s primary storytelling, but they do make you feel more cut off the rest of the audience (which seems to be the point).
Dehrouyeh, as the sole performer to appear on stage throughout the 60-minute running time, confidently portrays a full range for her character – from a self-confessed badass attitude to moments of tenderness for the people she loves. Having Persian integrated into some of her speech gave it completeness and the feeling behind the words almost always conveyed the meaning without great need for translation.
In this retelling, it happens to be that the protagonist knows perfectly well that she’s in a The Pit and the Pendulum – and moreover, that she’s in a version that has swapped Toledo for Tehran. She even realises when she’s momentarily in the wrong Poe story. The metafiction seems over-stretched though, when she delves into literary critique of Poe and all white male writers (and maybe even all modern writers) with comparisons to Star Wars to highlight the lack of originality in it all. Putting views on the topic aside, I couldn’t help thinking that this issue was shoehorned in for the sake of it and it didn’t fit particularly naturally with the rest of the narrative.
There were some funny-ish lines in The Pit and the Pendulum, which added to the character’s charisma, but humour was not this play’s strongest point. It did better with adapting the detail of the original story to a different context, like the psychological tortures of the prison, the desperation at any sign of faint hope and finally, being pulled back from the brink of hopelessness at the edge of the pit. With a couple of exceptions, the added ideas and technology were a nice complement to these parts too.