The ZENDEH theatre company uses a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear as its slogan: ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.’ Alas, I am therefore obliged to speak what I feel.
The story is reasonably interesting. As a child, Darya (Brianna Douglas) is forced to choose between moving to Iran with her Iranian mother or staying in the UK with her English father Roger (Matt Jamie). She chooses the former. Years later, following the Iranian revolution, the start of the Iraq/Iran war, and suffering from PTSD, Darya returns to confront her father. Why didn’t he wave her goodbye, all those years ago? Why did he never write? Can they ever be reconciled?
It’s hard to care about the answers to these questions without being invested in the characters, regardless of whether we like them or not (and Roger, the self-centred musician, is certainly not meant to be likeable). The trouble is, the story isn’t executed very effectively. It’s hard to give anything but a wooden performance when dealing with a wooden script. The characters remain unconvincing throughout, as does their relationship. This is most obvious in the underwhelming scene when Darya and Roger meet again for the first time in ten years. The scene falls flat. The woman next to me cringes as her stomach rumbles.
There are images projected onto screens on stage, images of hands, explosions, airport scenes, and dates. These look nice, but don’t contribute much to the production, though paper planes made from music sheets add a nice touch. Aeroplanes are a central theme, as the two characters argue about the Iran Air civilian plane that was shot down by the US without justification or apology in 1988, when the play is set. The characters’ attitudes towards this atrocity highlight the impossibility of their reconciliation. Unfortunately these attitudes are predictable and clichéd.
At one point Roger, whose highest motivation is ‘prestige’, goes over some old reviews of his supposedly world-leading choral ensemble. ‘One star’ he huffs indignantly, ‘one star!’ I’m afraid that yes, if I speak as I feel, not as I ought, then one star is all I can give.