Telescope @ Testbed (The BUTA Festival) Review

Battersea’s Doodle Bar brings Telescope all the way from Azerbaijan. Described as “immersive”, an adjective that conjures up ideas of daring, absorbing theatre, the show’s somewhat sparse description intrigues me. I have very little idea of what I am about to experience.

TELE-188

Though I have never heard of Elchin, he is apparently a fairly reputable playwright in his home country. The old dairy where the play is set is striking and cavernous. My expectations grow further as I sit on the white boxes dotted around the floor, divided into a few main clumps. Lights, bangs and flashes. A man’s spirit leaves his body and makes its way to a purgatory furnished with filing cabinets and angels, dressed in white, wheeling between the blocks on mini-scooters. It is well put together and balanced just right, allowing you to feel part of the action without obstructing the show. Supernatural beings whizz around us, setting the mood for an ethereal evening.

The show sets about dealing with heaven and hell and human virtues. No small task. To do this sort of thing, the script needs to be perfect. Unfortunately, there are gaping holes, inconsistencies that are never filled, and very little clarity as to what is going and why. I don’t even realise where I am supposed to be until somewhere in the middle of the play. I think it’s some weird sort of heaven, turns out it is just a weird sort of purgatory. The telescope after which the play was called has the capacity to allow souls to look down to earth and see what they have left behind. A decent foundation for what could have been a decent story

Perhaps the meaty parts are lost in translation but the tone lacks substance and oozes sentimentality. While our protagonist has moments where the torment and confusion of being caught between heaven and hell, life and death, his new family and his old one, his ex-wife adds a sickly-sweet glaze to an already unsatisfying sweet story. I leave let down, having hoped throughout the play that the script’s loose ends would be tied up and my niggling questions would be answered. It can’t be ignored that they get me asking a few questions, and those questions pester me the day after, get me thinking all philosophical like.

The layout of the set and dynamism of the actors give proceedings a little spirit. The show doesn’t have enough of anything to be heaven or hell. I was stuck in a bland purgatory of an evening that was mediocre at best. 2/5

Review written by Harry Davies.

Telescope is currently showing at Testbed1 Battersea, as part of the BUTA Festival until Saturday 7th March. For more information on the production, visit here…

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