Paul Hewitt’s Nude draws from The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, quatrains written by Persian mathematician astronomer Omar Khayyám (1048–1131). Edward Fitzgerald published his translation in 1859, employing iambic pentameter into the Ruba’iyat stanza and giving the final line of the quatrain an epigrammatic force.
Some lines in Hewitt’s free adaptation are quite clever and give cohesion to the otherwise sprawling poem by introducing the story of two lovers who meet, fall in love and break away again in tragic circumstances, all the while, testing the boundaries of freedom. Their narrative is framed and described by an omniscient narrator, played by Roshni Rathore, dressed all in white and who may be Fate. The suspense-driven moments of silence between the lovers, played by Edward Nash and Michelle Fahrenheim, reflect the energy and manner in which Fitzgerald wished the work to be interpreted: like a “Wave that falls over the last.”
There are moments in director Ian Nicholson’s piece where it feels like the actors are pulling the lines up from somewhere deep inside themselves as they, constrained by Minglu Wang’s neon cubic set, prowl around each other like stricken animals caught in the narrator’s trap. The narrator has some cracking lines, including “A fuck here, a suck there” which sounds strangely jarring in the purist, romantic atmosphere within which the two lovers live, unaware of other universalities and limited by their self-perceptions.
The sometimes jaunty lines conflict with the play’s more stereotypical obsessions. On their first date, the woman, driven by nervousness, over-talks and bumbles embarrassingly, whilst the man looks quietly on, waiting patiently, one imagines, to devour her. The man impresses upon his lover that he wishes to time travel, the woman’s role seems to be to back him up. When she tells him how time can be manipulated by breathing, the man replies “You know everything” and the woman naturally rejoins “Women do.” No, no they don’t and even if they did, it is small recompense for standing by almost victim-like whilst men get to speak their wishes and act out their greatest desires. One thinks, if the female lover can use Google in this poem – one of the few realistic details – then she’s definitely heard of feminism.
The message seems to be that life is short and unkind and we return to dust, just as the natural world carries on and the sun keeps rising. The actors are in tune with the mystical feel of the writing but to have more impact, to make us care about the characters and the tragic end to their love story, there needs to be more about how this 12th Century poem can translate into and give meaning to our own technically and intellectually advanced century. And if the characters are meant to be caricatures, then why? Distortion must always be set against something that is clear. However, towards the end, there is a good dark monologue riddled with black humour which got me thinking about Beckett’s Murphy: ‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new’. It is an adequate quote to finish with.
Nude is on until 21st May 2016. Click here for tickets.