Anyone familiar with Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The Aleph (a niche crowd, perhaps) might be intrigued to learn that it has recently been transformed into a one-act play. Well, in a manner of speaking. The production, which is to be showcased at the Burton Taylor in early February (4th Week), plays fast and loose with its textual basis, but arguably has the potential to become an exciting piece of theatre in its own right.
The script, devised by Eli Keren, follows four soldiers and a thief in their quest to retrieve the Aleph – a mysterious, encased object which is allegedly capable of defeating ‘the enemy’. The group’s task is complicated by the fact that no member is allowed to speak of the Aleph except in code, and whatever happens they must never open its case. The team don’t understand the mission and they don’t understand why they don’t understand it. These qualifications function only as background, however, for it is immediately clear that the play’s real emphasis lies on a far more complex theme: the intricate network of relationships between the characters.
The peril of subordinating events to interactions is that the latter suddenly becomes very, very exposed. Think Waiting for Godot, think No Exit: the play stands or falls on its cast. And it is fair to say that a couple of characters seize the spotlight: Will Law as Captain Evans, the leader of the crew, looks set to give a very strong performance – there is a remarkable sincerity in his moments of anger, but that’s not to say that his more conversational scenes are wooden by comparison. Claire Bowman’s straight-laced, cold lieutenant is another one to watch; she’s empathic without being excessively dramatic.
The play’s portrayal of insanity (no spoilers) is also interesting to see: Alex Wood, as the thief, does a good job of unsettling the audience with his meticulously cultivated mannerisms.
Ultimately, however, the play’s basis makes things difficult for its actors. The dialogue succumbs to some well-worn tropes at times, and it can feel a bit like we’ve seen all the characters somewhere before. It might be a challenge to turn these stereotypes into individuals, though with strong direction and a concerted effort from the cast, the prospect isn’t inconceivable. The script is heavily indebted to the (admittedly interesting) concept of the short story, Aleph; the challenge now is to develop a bit more subtlety from the characters, in order to move the piece beyond risk of cliché.
So, what can we expect from The Aleph? The production does have the potential to give a fascinating portrayal of human relationships and, with a more subtle rendering of its complex mythological themes, compel its audience in a rather exciting way. But only time will tell whether it delivers.
The Aleph opens in the Burton Taylor Studio at 7.30pm, Tueday 5th February. Tickets available at £6 (£5 concessions).
PHOTO/ James Gandhi