Brighton Fringe 2009
The Iron Eyelashes
Venue: The Marlborough Little Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
The Iron Eyelashes tells the story of siblings Pieter and Anna. Two Berliners coming of age in 1961. Sharing a very close relationship, Pieter is destined to become a drag artiste and wears the creations of his aspiring dressmaker sister better than she does, they are torn apart by the erection of the Wall August 12th. From there we witness them lead their now very separate lives in two diverging worlds. The play is put on by Imaginary Forces, a new company interested in creating unique theatrical events drawing on writing, cabaret, visual and interactive arts.
Past events are communicated through the eyes of an older Pieter as he reminisces. This lends the play a filmic quality. Anna (Sarah Niven) and Pieter (Simon Stephens) share an almost symbiotic relationship which is well established and her acceptance and protection of him is something one might dread him attempting to survive without in the face of the foreboding events which we know are to follow.
Lighting and technical design was strong. The set could be of a higher quality but its design was very effective. In order to convey such a long passing of time and this in two suddenly divided and overnight alien environments was clever and well executed with minimal fuss. Contrasting Pieter’s club, with all the glitz, glamour,frills and cabaret simply suggested by the sparkly curtain, a sudden spotlight, a change of costume and of course the piano, to Anna’s cold and bleak existence in the East was jarring and instantaneously transported us back and forth. A neat subsequent addition to the set served as a permanent reminder of the presence of the wall itself.
In fact the play was especially strong on the use of imagery. Conveying so much throughout and never more than at the end as 1989 finally arrives, the wall comes down and families previously torn apart try to find one another anew.
The direction was imaginative and the occasional positioning of our narrator amongst the action to communicate the recalling of times past as we watch them replayed in the present was effective. A later ‘duet’ by the two Pieter’s, the one accompanying the reincarnation of his remembered younger self was powerful and moving.
Imogen Brodie’s writing makes the most of her play’s historical setting. Once the wall goes up we learn how people who suddenly find themselves on opposing sides have only a few days to decide where they would like to end up. Even if resolute in decision, getting across is fraught with danger. Dates are mentioned and we are swiftly transported back in time. Powerful icons are also referenced including the Brandenburg Gate.
Also enjoyable was the ominous Stasi presence in the East reminiscent of recent award winning films such as ‘The Lives of Others’. The particular choice of language employed to convey the Stasi’s view of the "individual thrill seekers" in the west referring to the likes and lifestyle of Anna’s brother was very real. "Loyalty and commitment" is rewarded and any kind deviance or subversive thought let alone acting on that thought will be dealt with in a preemptive method.
On a critical note Karl’s total dedication to regime, although an ineffectual character by nature, seemed a little sudden. Perhaps this was supposed to be illustrative of the power of the ‘conditioning’ of such doctrines or perhaps he was too clever to show any ambivalence or regret in front of his superior. Nevertheless it would have seemed realistic if we were to have seen a hint of anguish in the aftermath of his actions.
The casting could have the two Pieters look more alike but as the story progresses the fact that they are one and the same is accepted. It was curious that the older Pieter (Ian Dring) had become a much more exaggerated version of his former self. Later in the play we witness a shift in the younger actor towards this mature state but he starts out a much more delicate and sensitive boy. Whilst excitable around his sister as they dress up and make-believe Pieter also has a shy quality. His older-self is certainly much grosser, both in make-up and manner, which jarred initially but at times he is also just more; no doubt as a direct result of history endured the fading drag star is more hurt, more vulnerable and even on some poignant occasions more beautiful. Ultimately this felt illustrative of what he had lost or been denied in life early on as opposed to any subsequent discoveries.
It was of course a bonus to have the live piano, giving a real sense of the club, and a neat trick how on occasion the artist would interact with pianist who’s name they could never quite remember. Whilst the songs were enjoyable none of the lyrics have stayed with me. Whilst the power of the production, music, acting and story all served to really move its audience the choice of songs apart from the last one was not so memorable.
It was a powerful play and by using such a monumental part of modern history in order to tell the story of how the tragic event separated a homosexual brother from not only his beloved sister but seemingly the only person who provided him with the love and acceptance that certain art and literature suggest a lot of gay people have felt denied made for a poignant and moving experience.