Reviewed – 25th April 2018
“Sepy Baghaei’s unique take on identity is both refreshing and convincing”
Dark, grave and full of tension, Citizen is about the struggle for identity and the question of heritage many immigrants face. Focusing on Iranian families, it sheds light onto the reality of being a refugee, whether this be the endless waiting or the difficulty of dealing with a traumatised parent.
The play is largely fragmented, with the single scenes slowly adding up to create a greater picture, a collage of experiences. Despite this, the focus always returns to its two main narratives. In heart-wrenching monologues the actors tell the real stories of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Behrouz Boochani, both Iranian, and both victims of unfounded detainment. In these moments, when politics is condensed into a mother missing her daughter and a man struggling with lack of food, the play is at its most haunting. In its quest for understanding, the fragments circle around the concept of citizenship, trying to get a little bit closer each time around. Although this offers a large number of possible approaches, at times, the collage effect appears to be exhausted for a moment. Especially when the bleak reality of the journalists’ fates is contrasted with idealised childhood scenes, the shifts lack conviction. Citizen’s strength is certainly the weighty, the thoughtful and the quiet and this is also where the actors, including Nalân Burgess and David Djemal, are at their best.
Nevertheless, director Sepy Baghaei’s unique take on identity is both refreshing and convincing. In an ironic moment of self-depreciation, the play undermines all attempts to define citizenship by proclaiming the recipe for “a Persian” in the style of a TV cooking show. These moments of humour allow for a quick relief from the otherwise intense piece but are never too distracting from the serious message the play has.
A small, refurbished church, The Space is a perfect venue for a play as intimate and moving as Citizen. While the high ceiling and darkened walls allow for play with the three-dimensional, the room is compact enough to establish a close rapport between actor and observer. Despite the plain set design, an inspired use of lights helps to transport the audience. Throughout the play, simple but endlessly melancholic Persian singing fills the space, the music connecting us more to the unknown than any facts could. In the end, the room and the remains of the play are left for the audience to explore, consciously not drawing a line between the end of the show and the beginning of reality.
While it has a clear political message, Citizen is certainly also a very rewarding play just in itself. With its minimalistic design and close connection to reality, it manages to raise our awareness to what goes on around us and ultimately, calls for humanity.
“If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.” (by Persian poet Saadi)
Reviewed by Laura Thorn
Photography by Sepy Baghaei
The Space until 5th May
Previously at the venue