By Conor O’Neill
Photography courtesy of Darine Lama
Given one of the core objectives of the Belfast International Arts Festival 2022 is to highlight and promote the arts and culture of the Middle East and North Africa, Palestinian multi-media artist Riham Isaac’s Another Lover’s Discourse fits the billing perfectly.
Her work spans acting, singing, dancing, and video in this innovative piece of questioning and powerful theatre.
The MAC’s upstairs studio is packed. Before us the stage is minimal. To our right an old TV, a phone and behind that a changing screen. To our left a video screen, a laptop, a camera mounted on a movable boom. Stage centre, a microphone. And then darkness. Isaac appears, the TV crackles to life and 65 minutes of enthralling and at times esoteric performance and storytelling begins.
It’s clear from the start the Riham Isaac has us just where she wants us. You could hear a pin drop. And the plot? Well, it’s none other than the age-old story of looking, or maybe not looking, for love.
All eyes move relentlessly as we watch Isaac dance and lip-synch to old Arabic and Hollywood film clips played through the TV, eyes dart to the left to see what’s being revealed to the screen on our right and then move rapidly to the huge backdrop which flicks up subtitles of the Arabic translated to our English tongue. It really is quite an enthralling opening few minutes. throughout which Isaac stays totally silent.
She’s never still, the plot is always busy and heads and eyes turn this way and that as if we’re watching two or three tennis matches at once. At times she’s crafting coloured paper, scissors cutting away as bass-heavy music pulses through the PA. At others she’s dancing manically. But at all times during this one act performance there’s something to intrigue.
Wedding and a focus on the bride are strong themes that run throughout the entirety of this piece. Another of the main themes is the distinction between eastern beliefs in marriage and love and our own western ideals.
Costume changes every other scene, and the scenes are always punctuated by the lowering of the lights as if another secret has been revealed. Two of the most telling scenes are the interviews between an unknown questioning male voice and Isaac herself. Asked why she’s doing this she reveals “I’m doing this because I have many stories to tell…” Her voice fades only to return, “I’m doing this because I got lost.” The second noteworthy, among the many to mention, scene is Isaac asking her mother the truths of love. The question is does the older woman’s sage advice fall on deaf or willing ears?
In the last 10 minutes Isaac addresses the audience in English and the first 55 minutes are somewhat explained. Not laid out to be digested with ease but rather hinted at leaving the viewer free to make up their own mind.
Quite simply one of the most memorable pieces of performance art I’ve seen in a long time.
Another Lover’s Discourse plays again today Sunday October 23rd at 3pm at the MAC. To book your tickets visit http://www.themaclive.com or simply phone the box office on 02890 235053
For information on what else the BIAF has to offer visit http://www.belfastinternationalartsfestival.com
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