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Nassim review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ’emotionally charged theatrical experiment’

Nassim Soleimanpour in Nassim. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge Nassim Soleimanpour in Nassim. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
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Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour made an international name for himself by sending his plays around the world in his own stead, when he was not allowed to travel beyond the border of his native Iran.

His work has never been performed in his home country, or even in his native Farsi. But he is now able to witness his plays for himself from the audience. He can even appear in one himself – as more than a thousand actors have before him.

Nassim is a new script by Soleimanpour, written for himself to perform in. But it also continues the key idea in his previous works – it can only be performed by an actor who has not seen the play and who is given the script when they walk on stage.

In the previous works, notably White Rabbit Red Rabbit, each performance’s actor had only the script for guidance. It mostly worked well, such was Soleimanpour’s skill in constructing the script, leaving just enough leeway for interpretation. However, much depended on the actor having faith in the words in front of them and wanting them to succeed – a cynical performer could destroy the performance.

The extension of the unseen script concept in Nassim is that instead of the actor reading Soleimanpour’s authorial voice in the stage directions, the playwright provides it himself, live, feeding the new actor their lines, coaxing them, bribing them and even punishing them in their endeavours.

Just as White Rabbit Red Rabbit had something of a circular framing, in that it was what it was about, so too, does Nassim. And, like its predecessor, it includes a judicious amount of audience input.

It is a play about Farsi and being able to write material that is performed in your mother tongue; it is about what it means to be able to write a play that can be performed for an audience in the country you were born in.

The play deals with this at a very personal level, portraying a story of Soleimanpour’s own childhood and the promises he made to his mother.

Theatremaker Chris Thorpe, who picked up the script sight-unseen in the performance The Stage reviewed, brought a strong sense of empathy with Soleimanpour to his performance. Quizzical rather than cynical in his approach, he made the audience his friends, complicit in the experience in the opening scenes when the playwright is only seen through video link.

When Soleimanpour and Thorpe were both in the same room as their audience, the show moved from being an interesting experiment into being something really exciting. Its final reveal turns out to be very simple, but also uplifting, in this emotionally charged piece of theatre.

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Nassim Soleimanpour’s latest experiment in playwriting is theatrical, uplifting and emotionally charged