“Life knows no rehearsals. Perfection is precious but not real, not as real as being in the now.” – Nassim Soleimanpour
Perth’s beloved raconteur Andrea Gibbs was thrust into the now at Studio Underground on Wednesday night. Looking out at the audience from the stage, she hadn’t yet seen the ‘secret’ script of the play she was about to perform, let alone met the playwright. Talk about flying blind.
This new autobiographical play by Iranian-born Nassim Soleimanpour started touring in January of this year. In it, a new actor takes to the stage each night. His plays have traversed continents, and previous actors have included Whoopi Goldberg and Nathan Lane.
Gibbs is an Australian comedian, actress and radio presenter. Having seen her onstage at The Big HOO-HAA!, Barefaced Stories and TEDxPerth she comes across as an unflappable, generous and relaxed performer with an easy smile and infectious laugh. In other words, a perfect fit for this project.
Fans of Soleimanpour’s earlier work (Red Rabbit White Rabbit, Blank) are in for a treat. He originally developed works from his home in Iran, shifting the paradigm by removing the need for a director or set. After 10 years of cold readings, the playwright asserts he is not a performer, claiming that his director forced him out onto the stage, but he easily maintains a likeable and natural presence opposite Gibbs.
We witness the two develop a fast-tracked friendship in 80 minutes. The script emulates some of the ways we make new friends in new places: sharing tea, family photos, stories, and favourite restaurants. Soleimanpour has been making friends the world over with his plays, even whilst unable to leave Iran, and now he has a touching photo album to prove it. His most recent friend: Andrea.
What makes this work universal, says Soleimanpour, is that everyone has a Mum (mumun in Farsi). This is a play about being away from home, and about how language connects and divides us. If you’ve ever moved overseas or experienced life as an expat, if you’ve ever Skyped your Mum, you will see yourself in Nassim. Figuratively, as well as literally, thanks to the gently provocative audience interaction. There is a distinct feeling of crossing cultures and stepping into the playwright’s shoes.
Soleimanpour has spent the past 3 years living in Germany, and he confesses that he first created Nassim out of a desire to learn German. As a young au pair living in Paris, reading picture books to my young charges was one of the fastest techniques at my disposal to learn French.
The playwright has evidently unlocked the same secret to learning languages, translating the story of his childhood in Shiraz and using a picture book to teach the audience some words in his native tongue Farsi. He says it is deeply moving to have Farsi presented onstage, and it fulfils a promise to his mother.
We learn that Nassim means ‘breeze’ in Farsi, although he is disappointed that it doesn’t have a meaning in English. What he may not know is that many of our English names don’t have meanings either.
There are threads running through several of the Perth Festival performances we have seen this year. They are multicultural, multilingual and mindful. They make use of mime and modern technology.
These shows have charming ways of channelling family, either through vocal or visual means or because the performers live together as one. Recurring themes include personal journeys, childhood memories, presence, and patience. In short, they bring the world to us.