The Pit And The Pendulum, Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

Adaptor: Christopher York based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Reviewer: Sophia Moss

“I am a cross between Prince and Batman”, says a young woman who kneels with her back to us, a white hijab trailing over her shoulder and onto the ground. She faces a rectangular screen, which reminds one of an iPhone 7, and it shows landscapes and news clips, changing in loud flashes of static noise. The audience surrounds her in a half-circle, almost invisible apart from their headphones which flash small dots of red light.

Creation Theatre’s adaption of The Pit And The Pendulum takes the main character out of the Spanish Inquisition and into modern-day Iran. In December 2017, a young woman protested Iran’s modesty laws which makes it compulsory for women to wear the hijab. She took off her white headscarf, put it on a stick and waved it as a peace flag.

The video went viral, but the unnamed woman, who was 31 and had a young child, was arrested on 27 December and no one knew where she went. This inspired the #WhereIsShe hashtag, which has people from all around the world demanding to know what had happened to her. This is the story that Creation Theatre tell in their one-woman adaptation of Poe’s short story, with this still unnamed woman as the central character. We watch her as she walks around her cell, arms outstretched in the darkness, we see as she drinks her daily cup of water and piece of stale bread, even though she is convinced it is poisoned, and, through flashbacks, we learn about her life in Iran and how she ended up in prison.

Our main character, whose name we never learn, was given a beard for her birthday as a teenager so she could go to a football stadium and watch a game, an activity that women are barred from. Later, she is kicked out of her university for comparing the works of Edgar Allen Poe to the Star Wars films and, when her teacher complained that this wasn’t what he asked for, she asked him if the issue was with her clitoris or uterus. She becomes involved with a feminist uprising, explaining to her mother that she “loves her scarves, they go with everything” but she doesn’t want the law to say she has to wear them. Throughout this play, our heroine complains that men have no imagination, that some of the torture devices in her cell were copies from events in Star Wars, or David Bowie’s Labyrinth.

The audience listens to this show with wireless headphones, which shuts out all outside noises. At one point, our heroin squishes imaginary rats as we listen to the “squish, splat, splush” which follows her arms and legs as we watch piles of rats on the iPhone shaped screen. We also see a white, swaying pendulum begin its descent on our heroine as she tries to escape, strapped to a bed with shackles around her arms and legs.

This show explores themes of solitary confinement, torture and feminism as we watch our heroine be covered by rats, try to escape a slowly approaching pendulum, explore her pitch-black surroundings to find a way to escape, and argue with a male voice which narrates parts of the original The Pit And The Pendulum story. This voice is presumably a hallucination of Poe himself and, while at first our main character tells him she “doesn’t need his white man commentary”, she eventually tries to summon the voice to escape the deafening silence of her cell, the silence which she swears will kill her.

The Pit And The Pendulum drags at times, especially during some of the abstract dance sequences, and parts of the humorous dialogue falls flat, but this play does successfully take Poe’s story and apply it to the modern world, it will make you Google Iran’s modesty laws and try to find out all you can about the nameless woman, and it will give you a sense of hope, a belief that things can change.

Runs until the 24 November 2018 | Image: Richard Budd

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A modern adaption

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