The uprising in Iran is just over a year old. Women are still demonstrating, refusing to wear their headscarves and shouting ‘Woman. Life. Freedom’. At the same time, the government is hitting back, often literally: in the past week, a sixteen-year-old girl died suffering from brain damage after an alleged altercation with morality police who had assaulted her for not wearing a hijab.
Performed by Najmeh Shoara, born in Iran but forced to leave to keep herself safe and sane, she is in the UK for the first time to tell this story which, written and directed by Kevin Dyer, is based on the true stories of the many women forced to leave places and start over again. Whilst pre-dating the tragic death of Mahsa Amini in Iran in September 2022, it was updated to reflect its Iranian origins and alignment with the current protests.
Although this is Shoara’s story it is so much more as her experiences resonate with those who have protested, with those who have had to flee from the challenges of ‘that place’. It is the story of escape and of survival, of the challenges of being seen, heard, and recognised when eventually, somehow, you arrive at ‘this place’. It is the story of women the world over who start each day anew fuelled by individual courage and determination to overcome the odds facing them.
The basic set of a chair and an array of personal possessions represent a mix of memories and necessities, all of which are inevitably discarded along the lonely painful journey navigating emotional and physical minefields that Shoara takes us on. With luggage restricted to 37Kg, the unseen nightmares remain the heaviest load. The choice of accompanying music reflected the eclectic taste of people whose protest songs are unsurprisingly similar to our own.
The Middle East is front and centre of the news at present for other reasons but what is really the truth of a region scarred by the legacy of colonialism’s straight-line boundaries scratched across what once was the cradle of civilisation? Iran itself remains a hyper-educated, hyper-intelligent society of people who are interested and interesting, in spite of the abuses of various regimes – internal and external – over the last hundred years, but you won’t often read or hear that in the West.
This is an emotional and moving piece of theatre yet is also powerful and uplifting: it engages with its audience, challenges them to question what they are told, and, armed only with hope and a hint of humour, to set out on their own journey to make a positive difference in the world.
Najmeh Shoara is an actor, performer and director who uses contemporary movement and dance as her repertoire. Her practice spans multi-media, mixed art, text-based, physical theatre, and contemporary dance. Informed by her experiences of dislocation and displacement, disrupting certainty is a recurring theme in her practice; her emotional responses fuel her sense of being in the world.
Kevin Dyer is Associate Writer at Theatre Porto amongst many other things. He has over thirty commissioned plays behind him – for radio, for young people’s audiences, arts centres, rural tours, as well as a large-scale community play. His play ‘The Syrian Baker’ – also concerned with the desperate journeys people make to find safety – won the Writers Guild Award for Best Play in 2022.
Theatre Porto has been making work for children, young people, and the communities of Ellesmere Port for over 35 years, and in August 2022, opened a brand new, specialist theatre and cultural hub in Whitby Park. It’s a calm, creative space and well worth a visit. Further details https://theatreporto.org/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 30th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: