Thursday 27 July 2017

Theatre review: Nassim

Currently previewing at the Bush Studio before officially opening in Edinburgh, Nassim features a format I’m seeing more and more of: A performer who knows as little about the piece going in as the audience does. Nassim Soleimanpour’s play, directed by Omar Elerian and designed by Rhys Jarman, features a new performer every night, and like the Royal Court did with Manwatching, the Bush are releasing a list of the performers in advance, but not revealing who will appear at which performance until it actually begins. The performer - Khalid Abdalla tonight - is confronted with a screen on which flash cards are projected, with the script for him to read out, and instructions for him – and occasionally the audience – to carry out. Soleimanpour himself is turning the pages backstage, and about halfway through the play the playwright joins the performer onstage.

Born in Iran, Soleimanpour wasn’t allowed to stage his plays in his native country and language; so now, based in Germany, he writes in Farsi and has them translated into various other languages for performance. He says he no longer cares about the fact that he won’t have his work seen in Iran, but his only regret is that as his mother only speaks Farsi, she’s left out. So Nassim is a play especially for her, and is all about language, taking the form of a language lesson: Nassim wants to increase his English vocabulary (especially the swearing,) and in return will teach the performer and audience a few words of Farsi. (It’s clearly a stipulation that the performer not speak Farsi already; tonight Abdalla did have an advantage though as he speaks Arabic, and the two are close enough that he could read the writing, and understand most of the phrases before they were translated.)

Whether he’s sitting backstage with a webcam broadcasting the script or doing it silently onstage, Nassim himself is an affable presence and the show a sweet and nostalgic one, the script gently teasing the hapless performer until the playwright can claim them as a new friend. These shows where the performer is thrown into the deep end always come with a lot of audience goodwill towards them, but (without giving away too much – and rest assured any audience participation is voluntary) Nassim is the kind of warm-hearted show that also creates a communal feeling of getting to know both Nassim and Khalid.

Nassim by Nassim Soleimanpour is booking until the 29th of July at the Bush Theatre’s Studio; then from the 3rd to the 27th of August at the Traverse, Edinburgh.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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