Nassim
Studio Underground
Review: Jan Hallam

This is an extraordinary and disorientating production, which is perhaps the exact reaction its creator, Iranian playwright and performer Nassim Soleimanpour, was hoping for.

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While Nassim challenges the hegemony of the English language and rattles the bars of its speakers, it does so on the successes and failures of a guest actor, whose role it is to be the verbal conduit to the silent Nassim. He has periods of absence and presence on stage, communicating the narrative and stage direction via a series of notes flashed up on the
screen.

The thematic stream is a deep one – flowing with powerful concepts of cultural dislocation, loneliness, Xenophobia, racism, belonging – drawn together with the thread of language, one’s own language. For Nassim that’s Farsi and he is asking his English-speaking audiences to cross the bridge to his side and that’s a wondrous thing and an intriguing journey for his audience to go on.

But like all journeys, it depends on how well you are guided and this is where the guest actor comes in. On opening night the bunny in the headlights was Scarlett Stevens, a young woman who has been in her own spotlight since the age of 10 performing in bands Flairz and currently San Cisco. The role changes each night and includes comedian Andrea Gibbs, actor Humphrey Bower, broadcaster Richard Fidler, actors Kelton Pell and Matt Dyktynski and political activitist Sisonke Msimang. It is a changing feast that depends so heavily on the ability of the creator and the actor to find a strong connection and I didn’t think Scarlett and Nassim found a winning chemistry on opening night.

To appraise a show that has at its very heart the vicariousness of life and live theatre seems to be as pointless as it is unfair. The performance was vicarious, dangerous, at times, death-defying in the theatrical sense.

Did it succeed? I’m still thinking about it, still wondering at the layers of it, still attempting to say

Yeki bood, yeki nabood

It is the start of every great story … and Nassim may well be that story on any given day.

Nassim runs at the State Theatre until February 25.

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