Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Last night I saw something astonishing who significance I can barely begin to understand.

I can’t claim I was bowled over by it at the time; it’s only afterwards, on reflection, that I begin maybe to glimpse something of its significance.

It was called “Devil’s Ship” by Bazi Theatre Company. Performed in Parsi by a company of five women. And although the company seems to be run by men, who I noticed fussing around self-importantly after the show, the piece is about (and ultimately, I suspect by) the women. The only men on stage are in their graves.

The position of women in Iran is so extreme we can barely imagine it. And so the show came from a place utterly alien to us. The two protagonists introduced themselves by statements like “I am fifty” and “I am the daughter-in-law”. Statements I can now, perhaps, begin to decipher in terms of family relationships and the status of age.. and understand partially and with some difficulty statements that would immediately and profoundly resonate when spoken on their first stage.

The three other characters were the older woman’s two young and rebellious daughters; and a mysterious companion to the younger woman whose identity was never revealed. I don’t remember her introducing herself. Her mask was red, which meant something; she manipulated sinister looking voodoo dolls which she placed in the sand as if to have them crucified. And her veil was of silken fabric and impossibly, unmanageably, long.

Perhaps even the presence of these five women on the stage carried a meaning that we, outside their context, cannot really understand.

Their bodies were all covered in clothing. There was so much attention paid to their concealment. To their cloaks and veils. How must it be to live day in day out with the notion that your body is a thing of danger and shame that must be continually hidden from public view?

In fact I do understand in the sense that my whole life has been spent hiding, concealing, cloaking and veiling the secret of my feminine danger and shame. And like the women continually having to twitch and adjust and take care of this veil.
But somehow I have taken mine off. Which is why my world has suddenly become so different.

That was not possible for them... It is so difficult to explain this story! The women were prisoners, quasi prisoners, on an island of sand. With Sharja, the Gulf, modern living, visible yet inaccessible. The daughter-in-law was having a liaison with a man who offered her the possibility of escape. This violated the memory of her dead husband; and the mother-in-law was blocking her freedom. As they traditionally do.

But something amazing happened: the mother-in-law relented and gave her consent. And then the daughter-in-law refused to go. She wanted to honour the older woman’s choice; and she did not want, yet again, to give her freedom into the hands of a man.

She had a iPod, and this was a strangely shocking thing. On this stage, which was a kind of timeless space of fairy tale and myth. And there was this iPod: a reminder that this story does not belong to the realm of the fabulous alone, but also to a hard weary contemporary reality.

And at the end she gave it to one of the rebellious daughter: who listened with wonder.

A new reality was about to emerge.

I wrote all this, and then went to catch a bus. It didn’t come, as they tend not to, and I was watching a woman, and then a man, and remembering how tormented I used to be at the frontier between men and women. I felt stuck on the male side of it, where I didn’t want to be. And I could see no way I could ever cross it.

Whatever that frontier was in my mind, I have now crossed it. And am taking the first steps on the other, unknown side. This play I think has done the same.

Which is why in some ways it doesn’t quite work: the language is too tentative, too muted somehow. But that’s how it is, at the beginning. New worlds take a while to be fully born.

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