Lipstick: A Fairytale of Iran
Reviewed – 28th February 2019
“doesn’t shy away from tough politics but tries to fit too much in”
Lipstick: A Fairytale of Iran is part-theatre, part-cabaret show which hopes to balance heavy foreign affairs and human rights criticism against some, often more light-hearted, sexual politics. It makes the case that you cannot divorce art from politics, that the mere act of telling a story is in itself a political act.
It’s 2010 and narrator Orla, played by Siobhan O’Kelly, is struggling to come to terms with her recent six week, Government sponsored, trip to Tehran. Orla and best-friend and drag artist Mark, played by Nathan Kiley aka Topsie Redfern, are about to open their own drag night in Soho but far from being excited for their dream to finally come true, they’ve had an argument and need reconciliation. The story unfolds exploring Orla’s time in Iran, how it changed her, and how Mark coped behind in London without his munchkin.
Lipstick is unflinchingly critical of the Iranian state, referring to it’s indecency laws and the brutal retribution in kind or literal ‘eye for an eye’ law exemplified in the case of Ameneh Bahrami and Majid Movahedi. This is, however, in contrast to the people she meets in Tehran. The students in her classes, the receptionist at the hotel and, most touchingly, a carpet shop owner, are all complex characters portrayed with warmth and fondness.
Writer and director Sarah Chew draws clever parallels between Orla’s Northern Irish upbringing and the contemporary situation in Iran. One of Orla’s students notes that the British Embassy in Tehran is on Bobby Sands street, the only street with a British name in the city. There’s also a satisfying circularity when, early in the piece, Orla describes the paramilitary explosive of choice, Semtex, as smelling like marzipan. Later, she is comforted by a kindly offer of traditional Iranian rosewater sweets – made from marzipan.
Whilst all this is happening, Mark stays in touch from London on the phone and through music he’s preloaded onto an MP3 player for Orla’s trip. Mark’s character and journey don’t feel as deeply explored or neatly structured. This disconnect was then magnified by the use of pre-recorded voice, with Mark lip syncing often to his own voice. Whilst the tinny, distant sound of the pre-record was likely meant to evoke the 5,000 miles between Tehran and London, it instead limited the connection with his character. Although responsible for many of the biggest laughs and impressive vocal performances, it was a shame his arc wasn’t as critically explored as Orla’s, leaving him to fulfil the “Gay Best Friend” trope.
The stage featured a long catwalk with the audience sat either side, as if in the Soho club. Mark’s many costumes were effective in motion, although the props and tech experienced a few glitches which, although handled well, did not go unnoticed.
Lipstick doesn’t shy away from tough politics but tries to fit too much in, leaving the plot feeling lopsided, limping along behind. However, despite this, its ending is feel-good and will leave you smiling on your way out of the theatre.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Flavia Fraser-Cannon
Lipstick: A Fairytale of Iran
Omnibus Theatre until 24th March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: