There’s strong Parasite vibes in Lali, the debut play from British-Iranian playwright Shadi Hamta. An enigmatic drama about an individual taking over a rich person’s home, complete with the occasional comment on class, its staging and storytelling is rich and vivid, but it doesn’t feel as complete as Lali eventually does when she has to confront her personal, paternal grief.
It’s in the playhouse at the bottom of tech entrepreneur Megan Bamford’s garden – stunningly and intricately designed by Cara Evans – where the eponymous protagonist decides to camp out for some quiet reflection – makes sense. Lit up with warm hues from Lucy Adams, which also illuminate Lali’s childhood anecdotes, there’s a lot to like about how this production is put together.
Sadly, it falls short with Engin Eskici’s composition – not due to the music itself, for it’s suitably tense and plucky, but in how loudly it is played. It’s often overwhelming and disorientating, drowning out dialogue in some of the gentler moments of essential exposition. Considering it is in these flashbacks where we get to the real crux of the production, clumsy management of audio is both disastrous and detrimental to engaging with the play fully.
With that being said, Hamta – who is also the sole actor in the production – is engrossing as a performer, playing a Lali who often stretches her arms outwards as if to have a grasp on her own emotions. She nails the shift in characters with one simple body movement (a craning of the neck to the side for Megan, and one hand presented slightly forward for another character, Aaron), and is equally emotive with her facial expressions. Perhaps a resolution of the aforementioned sound issue may have made it more obvious in hindsight, but one revelation during the play was genuinely unexpected – the weaving of past and present is, for the most part, seamless.
Ultimately, the play’s ending feels abrupt and sudden, the exploration of classism and grief at its core not completely examined. Of course, such is the nature of VAULT that shows are confined to an hour, and if there’s new life in this play – which I very much believe there is – then an extended production could certainly add more depth to this otherwise commendable debut.
Lali is now playing at VAULT Festival until 26 February.
Production Images: Opia Collective.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Lali’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.