At the start of the show, the actor is given the script in an envelope. And off we go. The delivery isn’t quite as analogue as the descriptor suggests. We have projectors, web cams, roving mics and even Skype enlisted in the telling of Nassim’s story. Despite the beautifully simple premise, the production is technically fiddly but the execution is flawless. All credit to designer Rhys Jarman and director Omar Elerian.
Today’s actor is Desiree Burch, an American comedian, with her own show, Unf*ckable, on this Fringe aboard Bob’s BlundaBus. In person, she’s warm, funny and feisty with an enormous smile that makes it impossible to resist her first tentative steps through Soleimanpour’s script.
At one level, this play is an autobiography. The story of a playwright from Iran who, through force of circumstance, writes plays in English rather than his first language, Farsi. One day, it strikes him as strange that his mother, who taught an impatient four-year-old not quite old enough for school to read, can’t understand his theatre.
At another level, this is a play about disconnected people prevented from communicating by a lack of a shared vocabulary. A topical theme at this year’s Fringe as the global political climate looks increasingly precarious, terror attacks proliferate and the refugee crisis deepens. NTS’s How To Act, Dogstar’s The Sky Is Safe and AIK Productions’ Love Bombs and Apples all deal with this same topic, albeit in different ways. No doubt these are only a few of the plays that deal with the challenges of communicating with someone when your circumstances are so wholly other.
Best known for his play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Soleimanpour was a conscientious objector in his homeland where military service is compulsory so was prevented from leaving the country. He wrote the play to be performed in other languages in other countries – so his words could travel even if he couldn’t. He’s since left Tehran and lives in Berlin but continues to be fascinated by the idea that his words are discovered for the first time through a shared performance experience.
Certainly, there’s something compellingly endearing about watching the actor finding their way through the script along with the audience. If theatre can be accused of complacency – of a “build it and they will come” approach to sharing its message – this is a perfect antidote. In Nassim, the script is so well constructed that we as audience are enlisted in the story-telling. And as Soleimanpour himself says – through Desiree – as humans, we can’t resist a story.
This is a clever, interesting concept turned into a polished and surprisingly funny production that invites the audience to share in the frustrations of not being able to communicate. At its heart is the idea that no matter the context, we are all the same. Touchingly delivered, this is a message with resonance in today’s disjointed world.