Elegy, Theatre503

elegy

Originally written for Time Out.

Doing good is a habit. So is doing evil. This is the lesson of the Iraqi schoolroom, where the unnamed narrator of Douglas Rintoul’s monologue for Transport Theatre witnesses a schoolmate being taught out of the habit of left-handedness. In this world, anything but conformity to the norm must be stamped out.

Based on recent real-life accounts of homophobic violence in Iraq, ‘Elegy’ attempts to return a voice to these others through the power of storytelling, acknowledging as it does the unreliability of narrative. The storyteller, a gay man in a nation where ‘liberation’ has only increased prejudice, delivers his tale in the third person. His narrative does not assume to speak for anyone in particular, and yet he speaks for everyone.

A knowingly incomplete tale of persecution and exile, ‘Elegy’ has been pieced together using various sources drawn from post-liberation Iraq. This patchwork process is reflected in the form, as Sam Phillips’ anguished speaker flits between memories that flicker like the fluorescent strip light hovering above him. The mound of discarded clothing in Hayley Grindle’s set has an archaeological quality, suggesting remnants of other refugees or victims of brutal murders, left behind or taken from them.

As an exposure of the horrors of homophobic killing and the dislocation of forced migration, ‘Elegy’ can only ever capture a limited snapshot. But it is a vivid one. The piece departs, aptly, still trapped in a refugee limbo – between nations, between memories, between fact and fiction.

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