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Creation Theatre Company - The Pit and the Pendulum

17th October to 2nd November 2018

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Immersed by Poe

Creation's site-specific production is a play for today

Creation Theatre: The Pit and the Pendulum, at the Bodleian Library's Convocation House, from October 17 to Friday, November 2

Creation Theatre's latest site-specific immersive production, Christopher York's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, takes place in Oxford's historic Convocation House. Once used as Parliament during the Civil War when Oxford was briefly the capital, the traverse-style seating, as found in the House of Commons, offers a perfect space for this unsettling story of political imprisonment. A large screen for Eva Auster's video projections hides the old Speaker's chair.

In a room full of political ghosts, the story enters the troubled mind of an Iranian prisoner of conscience Sharazad (Afsaneh Dehrouyeh). We hear lines, sound effects and Matt Eaton's scratchy score through headphones, devices also used for Creation's Brave New World in the summer. Often in darkness, we feel we have joined her in her cell. Sharazad is a devotee of Poe, whose words from The Pit and the Pendulum (and snippets of The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven) are spoken by Nicholas Osmond. She is in dialogue with Poe and finds comfort, as well as defiance, in his world.

Sharazad is either becoming increasingly paranoid or the regime really is out to get her. She suspects her food is poisoned. In one wince-inducing scene, Dehrouyeh mimes being surrounded by hordes of red-eyed rats. The audience sees tiny red lights under the lattice grilles in the wooden floor. Sharazad adapts lessons from myths and tales (Theseus in the Minotaur's maze, Hansel and Gretel in the woods) to unwind a long white cloth to follow back to her bed. There's an intricately designed circular Middle-Eastern font that doubles as the pit at one end of her cell, a constant reminder that she can end it all herself.

Dehrouyeh, a star in the making, brings to life Sharazad's alluring, feisty nature. Imprisoned for standing up for women's rights, hinted at in images on screen from independent Iranian films like Persepolis and Offside, and manifested when she removes her headscarf to show her long, dark hair, Sharazad represents political prisoners held in Iranian jails, like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

A riposte to repression, this Poe dramatisation is a play for today.