Review: Paradise of the Assassins, Tara Arts

This is a well-intentioned production by Theatre Accord in association with Tara Arts that examines the capacity for and dependence on mind control in organized religion. Adapted from Abdul Halim Sharar’s original text, this is the story of Hussain, who loses his betrothed partner, Zamurrud and is then forced to complete a series of assassinations in order to enter so-called ‘Paradise’ and be reunited with his beloved for eternity.

The intimate space plays in thrust and Matilde Marangoni’s set relies more on props than large set pieces to convey the environment of the Persian mountains. Large bronze discs help to blur the distinction between the ‘real’ world and that of the ‘Paradise’ that the characters believe they are entering. Amy Mae’s lighting is simple and services the plot effectively and there is an innovative use of mirrors and reflection in one scene that allows the audience to visualise the portal between one reality and the next. Danyal Dhondy’s music is at times very moving and the cast execute harmonies and melodies that soothe the rhythm of events during scene changes.

The adaptation is, however, problematic and writer-director Anthony Clark has overwritten a play that drags for much of the evening. Unnecessary exposition is abundant throughout but perhaps understandable if the company felt obligated to stay loyal to the original text in all its entirety. This does, however, suffocate the drama of the scenes as everything is explained upfront and very little plot is rooted in action. Characters operate frequently as mere mouthpieces for particular sides of an argument and it is hard to engage with the production as a result. The staging of various scene changes displays some effort to break up the long passages of dialogue but these have no real connection – either formally or dramatically – to the content or structure of the scenes themselves.

Rina Fatania is splendid, however, and excels in all her multi-rolling as hilarious short-tempered matriarch, disturbing “houri” pimp and even bloodthirsty, sword-wielding princess. The cast are full of energy as a whole but occasionally fall into the trap of not listening to each other. Although the quality improves in the second half, the play begins with actors very clearly waiting for their turn to speak rather than engaging in any sort of moment-to-moment interaction on stage. There are some exchanges in the second half where this improves and it enables the issues of the play to be explored more clearly as a result.

The issue of faith itself and human beings’ culpability in our own brainwashing is an interesting topic for discussion and over the two hours this production certainly ploughs it course through this important subject matter. Some work is needed however to bring the issues to life through the dynamics between real characters as opposed to mouthpieces. There needs to be something that marks this piece out for the stage only and not something that could just as easily have been a piece of prose or indeed a lecture. The company should be commended nonetheless for their attempts in tackling themes of some gravity with real gusto.

Paradise of the Assassins is playing at Tara Theatre until October 8.

Photo: Tristram Kenton