Set in the unconscious mind of a tortured poet, Mahan Nikbakhsh’s new play Lost in Translation examines cultural and intellectual disconnection that seeks to unpack the British-Iranian experience.
An engaging watch that leaves you wanting to know more
The Poet protagonist is in a coma and the audience are guided through the story via vignettes of conversations in his own mind with two separate, self-created characters: a lover and a critic. It is deeply introspective and cryptic, with consistent tongue-in-cheek wordplay that gently reiterates the poet’s self-examination that is continually lost in translation.
The play is loosely inspired by the writing of Sadeq Hedayat and how famously challenging, near impossible, it is to accurately translate his work into English. The themes in his most prominent poem The Blind Owl are echoed in Nikbakhsh’s depiction of his poet’s fraught relationship with his imaginary lover. Though she rejects and criticises him, he soothes himself still by dreaming of their love-making, much to his inner-critic’s despair.
The play conveys the protagonist’s avoidance of his Iranian roots using intriguing mechanisms. The personification of his inner critic questions him about his family and at one point even forces him to physically interact with a momentum from his childhood, which he does so reluctantly.
The dialogue is well-written and convincingly depicts intimate relationships between the poet and the two characters in his mind with witty sarcasm and irony. Overall, however, it seems the play has more to offer in conception than in practice. The script slightly misses the mark of the writer’s aim as it spends a wealth of time discussing the poet’s pompous character rather than the tension between his Iranian heritage and British upbringing. This is not to say that the commentary is not present, but it builds relatively late in the storyline, making the viewer question where the plot is heading.
Lost in Translation would welcome more of Nikbakhsh’s insightful comment on cultural isolation and what it means to belong that goes beyond his protagonist’s struggle with intimacy and disillusionment from his poetry. It is an engaging watch that leaves you wanting to know more.