Stage Review: Paradise of the Assassins

This project/production is Arts Council England funded and the hand-outs received are actually a complete text in full book format which is unusual. ‘Unusual’ being the operative word for this evening. More about that to come.

Firstly, I must be clear about one thing, this old story is fascinating and it will draw you in spite of yourself. Break-neck and full of ferocity. A Muslim story, an ‘anti-parable’ if such a word exists.

In a Persian (Arabian) setting at a time when the Mongol Empire was still strong. Hussain (Asif Khan) and his love Zamurrud (Skye Hallam) are on their first Hajj. They’ve been walking for a long time and the mountains are stretching ahead, so they rest and Hussain tends to Zamurrud’s blistered feet. When they disagree on which trail to pick up, Zamurrud reveals her true reasons for coming to the valley. And we are suddenly engaged in her quest for the truth about what had happened to her brother on his past pilgrimage to Mecca.

So the story continues and it is full of purpose, but this stage adaption is hard work. Hard work for the actors who have to cram twice as many words into set pieces than is usual. Hard work for the onlooker who wants to pin a badge of credibility to the way the story is being played out, but is thinking there are tricks being missed along the way.

But how do you best portray characters, like Hussain, being one who does not trust what is going on yet he can’t seem to work things out? How do you develop the evilness of evil characters like Khurshah (Karl Seth)? How on earth do you devise the staging when it has to deal with scenes which include: the juxta positioning of a remote setting with an out-of-this-world setting, a sacred resting place; scenes of a religious worship and those of a sexual nature; murderous actions. You name it! And how does an ensemble player do all of that convincingly while coping with such densely packed dialogue?

Well however one handles all of this stuff, the drama was definitely weaving its magic, because, and despite a degree of negativity that I was experiencing, one really is compelled to return and see how the story concludes after the interval break .

I can report that in later scenes there is evidently more astuteness all round. Astuteness to the very flow of the text, to the stage management, and in the performances themselves. Incidents, both large and small, are better handled.

At the end of it all, this is an interesting play, which, and somewhat surprisingly for myself, will stick and for all the right reasons.

Featured Image: Asif Khan as HUSSAIN and Naveed Khan as SHAREEF ALI VUJOODI

Theatre Critic, Debra Hall attended press night of Paradise of the Assassins at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Thursday 13 October 2016. Repeated publication at Remotegoat Click here

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