Nassim @ The Bush
Each night, a new performer takes the stage for Nassim. This time it is Denise Gough, and the Bush is packed. There is a giddy feeling in the air and the audience bubbles with the idea that we will be sharing an intimate space with such a renowned actress. Already it seems on some level that tonight is not as much about Nassim Soleimanpour (our playwright) as it maybe should be. That’s not anyone’s fault, of course, it’s just a feeling I get. There’s a big group of women in front of me. They are dressed very well and all hold glasses of wine. They giggle and chat even as the lights go down. Already I’m annoyed that they aren’t so invested in this. I’m annoyed that they’re probably here for her, more than they are for him.*
Denise walks on stage to applause and an introduction and she seems nervous. Even from the outset, there are small quips and asides to the audience. She’s quick to jump on her own failings and wants us to like her. (This is emphasised when much later on, it’s revealed that the last picture on her phone is a glowing review from her last show. She jokes that even she gets insecure. I kind of feel for her in that moment and I understand her and her performance a little better)
*This all an assumption, of course. They might have been Soleimanpour’s biggest fans. I suppose my point is that it set a certain tone. For me, at least.
The premise of Nassim is a familiar one. The actor is unprepared and is given a script they have never seen before in an envelope on stage. Soleimnapour tricks us, but he also tricks the actor. The envelope contains one page, informing us all that the script is in fact in the hands of the playwright, who sits backstage. Denise is stuck between reading from the screen behind her and performing to us. Again, she is probably a little more vulnerable than she would like.
At various points throughout the show, the audience are one step ahead of Denise. We see the screen before she does and we spot her mistakes quicker. The script is playful, but her nervous and quick-witted persona disrupts what is ultimately a play about longing. I think this disruption is purposeful from Soleimnapour. He knows his actor will be on edge, and plays with their comfort zones, pushing them in and out of security.
Nassim was a deeply sad play, from what I gathered. But the audience laughed a lot.
Denise admits vulnerabilities and it is in those moments she is the most like us and without performance. Away from the stage, her nervousness subsides slightly. She opens a little more.
When she runs backstage to find him, he shares tea with her. It is a moment we aren’t allowed access to. I liked that. We see them through a screen and don’t see his face. She is less performative and I am more receptive.
How do we allow theatre to be those small moments of privacy?
How do we allow that small moment of sensitivity to be felt?
It was difficult to pin down a tone. I think it probably changed from night to night.
During the show I thought of Deborah Frances-White; a comedian. I thought of Tim Crouch; a writer and performer. I thought of Meera Syal, a wonderful Asian actor. How might her performance of Nassim, or White Rabbit Red Rabbit as she did at the Bush, have differed from that of the aforementioned white performers? Might it have been exactly the same?
I think there’s something about stories and translation and a telling. I can’t quite grasp it. There’s a lost feeling, a feeling of displacement.
There is the story through the actor, then through the physical script, then through the screen, then through the playwright, both in English and in Farsi.
I’m reminded of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree; a story told through a number of parallel voices.
Maybe the audience should have been shut out slightly more? As an English speaking audience member, I and many others in this country are afforded the luxury of knowing what we are seeing and understanding what we are being told. Sometimes it might do us some good to be dropped in the deep end (see Gecko’s The Dreamer).
I have had my English words handed to me, and it is a luxury that they can be easily consumed by the majority that will watch them, and that this country allows us to perform them.
Perhaps this is missing the point and it’s more about translation and communication. Maybe we should share in our commonalities rather than shut each other out.
I can’t stop coming back to the thought that sharing is a gift.
I have one friend from Iran and I have known him for close to 8 years now. We’ve grown apart recently. I didn’t know that he spoke fluently in Persian as well as English until last year. It was a huge part of his life and his identity and I never saw it or knew it. I thought of him during the show.
I hope he’s doing okay.
So, we circle back to Denise, to the white women in the audience in front of me, giggling, and we circle back to Nassim standing on stage speaking to his mother in Farsi. She is omnipresent and also just really fucking far away. Denise cries, and she lets go of us and the performance. Soleimnapour chuckles a little as if he knows something we don’t. The women in front of me give a standing ovation. Maybe they were more receptive than I gave them credit for.
Nassim always knows something we don’t, and that is one of the best things about the show. Thank you for sharing.