Dialektikon – Park Theatre, London

Writer: Jacky Ivimy

Director: Adebayo Bolaji

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Our modern world is full of outrage, of things that seem beyond our control and more issues than we can ever respond to. It is no wonder that for many of us compassion fatigue is setting in when we no longer know which causes to fight for or if there is any chance of winning these battles. Jacky Ivimy’s new play Dialektikonwill bombard you with problems, with the cruelty and disinterestedness of the world in the hope of shaking you out of your slumber.

Set in an African village, Miranda’s beloved and wise grandmother is suddenly taken away from her and, filled with grief, she is transported to a nightmarish mirror-world run by the evil Moloch. There she encounters a number of philosophers, campaigners, artists and scientists who try to teach her the way forward.

Ivmy’s play is essentially a very loud, very chaotic lecture that is unrelenting for an hour and 45-minutes (considerably longer than the advertised 80-minute run-time). Across its numerous subsections, Ivimy considers one major world issue after another, illustrating them by calling upon a selected great man of history to lay out the reasons and solutions to the problem, including poet Allen Ginsberg and psychiatrist Ronald Laing.

Dialektikonis pretty comprehensive covering war, starvation, racism, burning children, climate change and the negative portrayal and treatment of human madness, but despite its frantic use of symbolism, puppetry and music, it all feels terribly worthy and incredibly hard work for a viewer trying to grasp what is going on from one scenario to another.

Visually, there is a huge amount going on, utilising some of the dreamlike and representational modes of story-telling from African performance, and mixing it with silhouette, Jenny Dee’s puppets including the giant Moloch mouth that consumes everything, and plenty of dance referencing tribal and spiritual customs. There are representational tree canopies, mysterious boxes that open to reveal kaleidoscopic interiors and lots of fabric waving to suggest wind, fire and transition to the dream world. And while all of this looks impressive, there are so many stories, so many characters and so many issues that its central argument becomes lost and the time drags.

Structurally, the idea of a young woman having to learn about and arm herself against the world before she can make her way in it is a good one, and having an indicative devil and angel on her shoulder to lead her down the right path works well. But Ivimy forgets who is being taught, so Miranda and the Puckish Servant are both given narratives in which they are offered some kind of reformation and a chance to give up their bad ways for world peace.

Although a little stagey, particularly in the confrontational scene, Mary Nyambura’s Miranda is suitably naïve and selfish in the early part of the show, but the focus on finger-wagging topics means her transformation to activist never quite convinces. Sabina Cameron is a sage Ayida, authoritative and calm while Benjamin Victor plays the contrastingly devilish minion the Servant who seems to be having more fun than anyone else in the room.

Among the secondary male experts – and they are all male to point out the gender discrimination of the world and the hypocrisy of their own personal predilections – none of them get much time to challenge one another or really to develop any clear personality but Rhys Anderson is memorable as Laing and Minal Patel’s Gregory Bateson has strong characterisation.

As Bateson asks at one point how do we cope with man’s tendency to destroy not just his society but his ecosystem and his own soul? With the myriad problems of the world, the messy and confusing Dialektikon actually does very little to either clarify the causes and consequences or to help you to understand what all of us can actually do to make a real difference.

Until 29 December 2018 | Image: Amoroso Films.

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Messy and confusing

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One Comment

  1. Not entirely in agreement with your reviewer on Dialektikon. If what you want from new writing is spot-on perfection in every aspect then most times it will come up short, but if what you want is sincerity, courage and creativity then I think Dialektikon delivers greatly. A fascinating production and a committed and very talented cast giving it their all added even more to our experience. There is much in this production that has real merit and I think your reviewer has not looked hard enough for what was good.

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