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Iso Productions presents

Isfahan Calling

by Philip de Gouveia

Directed by Kelly Wilkinson

Associate Director Carissa Lynch

 

Old Red Lion Theatre

 

24 February – 14 March 2009

 

 

 

 

 

ry Couzens

A review by David Hermann for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

The fast-evolving practice of Information Operations, whereby a military opponent is demoralised by means of fraudulent radio broadcasts, is fertile ground for a play about the mechanisms of ‘manufacturing consent.’ Whether you agree with the ‘puppet-master’idea of the all-powerful media or not, Isfahan Calling is thoroughly enjoyable; if you leave during the interval, that is.

As every review of de Gouveia’s desert-fantasy points out, the play suddenly and quite inexplicably turns into a morass of implausible twists and eventually culminates in an ending so ludicrous it leaves you wondering whether it was written by the same man who wrote the beginning. Instead of dwelling on the spontaneous combustion of a perfectly good piece of new writing, however, I would like to point out that this production features some of the best acting I have seen on the fringe.

Protagonist Zahra, a young, idealistic British journalist of Persian extraction, is played by Zahra Ahmadi with such care that the wall between acting and reality simply being vanishes, and snap: we feel transported to an army base in the Iranian desert. Matthew Ashforde as Lee has the same incredible effect, and so, for the most part, does Richard Ings as Malcolm. Isfahan Calling is worth your money just to see these three humble masters of their craft in action.

Of course, this intensity of atmosphere is ensured by a set-design that leaves nothing to be desired. Three ugly, functional desks with (actually) functional computers on them, a recording-booth, a grimy fridge filled with nothing but coke cans and plastic water bottles, a map of the territory on the wall: this is one of the rare occasions where the confined, sweltering setting of a fringe venue fits the play better than anything else. Yes, we’re right there with them, in Isfahan. Designers Becky Gunstone and Alison Adams couldn’t possibly have done a better job.

The same goes for the beautifully layered sound design of Nick Gill and George Dennis, whose ultra-short bursts of radio waves over fine pads of haunting synthetic sounds add a dimension of immediacy to the action that no other element of the production could have achieved. Mark Jones and Ralph Fuller complete the highly effective atmosphere with the simple magic of their lighting design, which, woefully, is regularly disrupted by an unfortunate directing-decision: for some reason, whenever a spot-light comes on to single out the broadcaster in the recording-booth and superb Blade-Runnerish dark-blue gobos invade the rest of the stage, directors Kelly Wilkinson and Carissa Lynch have seen fit to choreograph the remaining actors in a totally indecipherable and seemingly irrelevant sitting-down-slow-motion-Madonna-dance-routine-thingy. The only effect these bizarre excursions into GCSE Drama had on my discerning companion and me was that we missed essential chunks of what was being said in the recording-booth - a disastrous thing to happen during the very sections of the play that are intended to drive the plot forward.

The fact that Iso Productions takes its producing seriously is reflected in the veritable army of a production team, which is almost three times the size of the cast. In addition to a producer and two assistant producers there is a production manager, a stage manager, a deputy stage manager, an assistant stage manager, a set-constructor, and a production photographer. All of these people deserve the highest praise, for they have truly made their presence felt in this intensely engaging production.

What a pity, then, that Isfahan Calling, a promising display of dramatic finesse and snappy dialogue, gets so hideously tangled-up in its own entrails that the second half is unwatchable. Yet, after some deliberation, I find myself nonetheless recommending this production for its inspired acting and rock-solid production values. But not without two suggestions: Firstly, dear Reader, should you decide to descend upon the Old Red Lion for an earful of desert storm, please, on re-entering the auditorium after the interval (if, indeed, you will, at all,) abandon all hope for a dignified ending, but by no means your pre-ordered tumbler of stiff, peaty scotch: you will need it. Secondly, dear Philip de Gouveia, if you find the time, please save this perfectly good play from cannibalising itself and re-write the ending, because, frankly, it stinks and you know it.

 

Tickets (£13/£10)

Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street
London EC1V 4N

www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk

Box Office: 020 7837 7816

www.ticketweb.co.uk

 

 

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