Immersive Play Has Wrong End Of The Telescope

By Ben Venables Last edited 33 months ago
Immersive Play Has Wrong End Of The Telescope ★★☆☆☆ 2

An eerie waiting-room atmosphere works well in Battersea's Testbed1. Photo Ben Venables

Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆

An immersive play performed for the first time in English, authored by Azerbaijan's deputy PM and then all staged in an old Battersea dairy is not something of the usual theatre fare — even by London standards.

Yet, in his home country Elchin is a leading playwright as well as a leading politico. Brought to London as part of the Buta festival, does Telescope plant the Azerbaijan flag in the fertile Battersea soil?

Early signs are good. There's a tumbleweed quality to the dairy and the giant scrunches of paper, filing cabinets and waiting-room seats all promise a story of some meandering bureaucracy in the style of Kafka or Gogol. The sound of crow calls bring to mind walking alone at dawn in the mist of a London park.

Into this eerie atmosphere Telescope comes to life with a full-cast entering as if in a medical drama. But the patient is dead — 'away the Crow road' — and soon he's greeted by his ex-wife in purgatory. To pass the time they talk metaphysics and peer through the telescope to those back on earth.

The discussions, though, are a little vague and just aren't that compelling. And as our protagonist looks down the telescope to find yet another of his family or friends are hypocrites (and all doing just fine without him) the story becomes repetitive. This naivety is a little dull in characterisation and makes for an unconvincing journey of self-discovery. It becomes more like A Christmas Carol than Kafka.

Then there's the immersive aspects of archangels scootering among the audience in shades and boiler suits — making the tone all very contemporary. Considered alone this is actually rather well staged, but perhaps exaggerates the dated parts of the story. A more traditional telling, or one that placed the tale into a specific historic context or place, may have served Telescope a little better.

Telescope runs at Testbed1, 33 Parkgate Road, Battersea, until 7 March. Tickets £15/£12. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 28 February 2015