'Let Me In' - Now Playing at the PNCA Auditorium, Islamabad

'Let Me In' - Now Playing at the PNCA Auditorium, Islamabad
Click on the image to visit the play's official Facebook group.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'Greater Than Just Horror.' - Instep Today

Excellent review by Asfandyar Khan in Instep Today (The News)!

For many denizens of Islamabad, the city's theatre scene is one of the few grander creative outlets on show. Though largely relegated to comedies, there is the occasional attempt at something more cerebral (Freedom Bound, The Good Doctor, The Pillowman). Yet, after being starved of worthwhile entertainment, it's hardly surprising that Islamabad fails to warm up - intellectually and financially - to something other than instant gratification in the form of slapstick comedy.

Let Me In, produced by the Living Picture Productions (at whose helm is veteran thespian, director and writer Osman Khalid Butt), then, is Osman's second swipe at trying to bring more graft and culture to Islamabad. Broadly advertised as a horror spectacle, there is nevertheless enough social commentary underpinning the writing to keep everyone interested.

Horror as a genre is incredibly convoluted as it is - trying to exercise it on stage must make it considerably difficult. Yet, Let Me In started off on the right foot, as an ominous rendition of 'Twinkle Little Star' pervaded the hall. Throughout the play, that general vibe of something macabre peeking at you from just around the corner was present. A vital component of any play that intends to disarm and distress is that onerous, macabre vibe - Let Me In had that vibe down to a tee and in droves. Regardless of how many characters were shuffling on stage (on a few occasions it did seem to go overboard), there was always a greater sense of foreboding present in the acting, the lighting and the sound. On quite a few occasions, the humour too seemed suitably strained; if you're afraid of an all-enveloping mist, you're hardly going to be Bill Hicks incarnate.

Conversely, on the opening night, it seemed as if the director could have gone for a few effective, if cheap, scares. In one instance - which surprisingly still managed to alarm the audience - one of the characters alerts everyone to a potential scare, thus perhaps defeating the purpose of that little movement as there was no surprise. However, such issues have largely been rectified as the shows have progressed.

Yet if there were any deficiencies in the writing, the rest of the aspects of the production more than made up for it. The acting often bordered on the sublime, with everyone paying their dues and then some. On quite a few occasions one was left stunned after the realization dawned that most of the cast and crew of this production were, and are, amateurs. Khawaja Eesa Salim's stoic performance as David Drayton provided the consistency around which the ensemble cast weaved their craft. Rubya Chaudhry's (Stephanie Drayton) cameo was exquisite, as her sinister nature meandered around the stage. Ahmed Ali (Wayne O'Shea) and Sundus Jamil (Sally Jean Hayes) had wonderful chemistry and provided a worthwhile contextual humanization of a play aimed at dealing with the inhumane. Mustafa Ali Khan (Ollie) & Waqas Sheikh (Bud) played their characters wonderfully and were a welcome detachment from the somber nature of the play in general. Introductory cameos from Alina Khan (the woman), Uzair Jaswal (Norm), Azam Ali Noon and Qazi Jabbar Naeem were all wonderfully executed as neither of them overstayed their welcome. Their acting was succinct , never deviating from their roles as secondary characters. However, it was Sofia Wanchoo Mir (Mrs Carmody) who undoubtedly stole the show. A demagogue and fundo, she was the one who kept the play's socio-political underpinnings intact, while simultaneously providing enough of a lesson in acting to have the audience shuddering with every twist of her expression. Her character might not have been granted a prosthetic face, but the mask she donned and used successfully was just as frightening as any creature from any vision of hell.

But it's not just the actors who make a play work. Despite a few missteps (the gun sounds were rather emasculatory) the sound was spot on and helped accentuate the play's suspense. The lighting was invariably going to be vital for a play of this nature - and Aashir Irfan's control over the board helped ensure that the atmosphere was perfectly set for every scene. The set too was brilliant (constructed by Romain and visualized by Michelle Tania Butt) and provided the relevant claustrophobia for the play. A good set can really make a play, and the seven-eleven setting helped ensure the director's vision of creating that little bit of terrified chaos. Noted in Islamabad's circles, Osman Khalid Butt is often sought after as an actor or a director, leaving little time for him to focus on his own vision. In Let Me In, it seems as if his desire to pay homage to Stephen King comes full circle, as he successfully manages to coerce wonderful performances out of his actors while keeping true to his script. Last but not least, considerable credit must go to the use of prosthetic makeup for the creatures. It's not often that prosthetics are used in Pakistan at all (for film or theatre), and it was a bold step (financially and creatively) to employ them in Let Me In. However, undoubtedly, the risk reaped considerable rewards as the prosthetic clad actors (Haris Shahbaz, Junaid Khan & Zainab Zaman Khan Afridi) received rapturous applause (or gasps) whenever they appeared on stage. Crawling and crouching, hissing and swiping, they added a whole new level of unease into the play.

Horror is a hard trick to pull - in that there is often nothing more to it than cheap scares and gore. True horror is often psychological with enough reality holding it down. Osman Khalid Butt's writing and his cast and crew realize that, which is why despite the preponderance of the supernatural, the greatest scares came from a very human character. To call Let Me In horror would in essence be a disservice; it is greater than just horror.

That alone makes the play worth a watch. Yet, if you feel you aren't in the mood for anything cerebral, Let Me In provides a plethora of scares and hilarity (sometimes unintended!) which will ensure that your 110 minutes aren't a waste. It is, regardless of its ambition, still an entertaining piece of theatre. If that isn't enough, a significant part of the play's profits go to flood relief.

Let Me In runs till October 28, and you genuinely couldn't do better than grabbing yourself a seat at the PNCA to take in this exceedingly wonderful play - regardless of where your affinities lie.

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