The Persian Revolution
Traverse, Edinburgh, Wed 21–Sat 24 Nov
What do we imagine when the word Iran is mentioned? In the West, the frequent response might be images of great masses of conforming folk, all similarly attired, with a succession identical ideological, political and religious demands, led by implacable theologians. It’s an image fostered by in the West by politicians who aren’t entirely free of self interest, and an obedient media who filter a succession of images through to us along the lines created by our political elite.
Certainly, that’s the view of Mehrdad Seyf, writer/director of this piece, who is keen to emphasise a diversity in the make-up of this nation that isn’t always represented in our media. ‘We’re not there to lecture, but I think Iran is such a rich country in terms of culture, in terms of personality, in terms of history,’ he says. ‘And in terms of craziness – and I’m not talking politics when I say that – there are so many different ethnicities, different cultures in Iran, it’s great to explore as drama.’
This new piece is from 30 Bird, the London Anglo-Iranian company which last year impressed venues all around the UK with Majnoun, a visually stylish piece also exploring forms of tensions within and prejudices against Iran. Here the stylish, cinematic lighting and sense of tableau will be similar, but the starting point of the piece occurs much earlier.
‘It looks back at 1906 when the first parliament in the Middle East was established, but it does so in a surreal and absurdist manner,’ says Seyf. ‘There was an American observer there at the time called Morgan Shuster, and he described the situation unfolding at the time in terms of a comic opera. So the piece I’ve written is very much inspired by what Shuster said, and works a bit like a comic opera.’ There is also an element of contemporary satire to the piece, as it switches forward in time to examine contemporary Iranian – American relations.
According to Seyf, the through-line of the historical comedy is about the same blindness being brought to Iran today as occurred a century ago: ‘If you want a modern democracy to develop in an Islamic country, these things need to happen in negotiation with Islam. It’s the dominant model of moral power, so with the very best of intentions of the world outside, imposing a model of Christian secular Democracy on a society like this will never work. I mean, imagine what would happened if it were the other way around and people tried to impose their Islamic model on this society? Again, it would never work.’