Review: Nassim – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Standard

First published in The Times, Monday August 7 2017

Three Stars

It seems almost unfair to review a piece of theatre based on a single performance when its complexion changes fundamentally at every outing. Nassim Soulemainpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, in which a different actor is drafted in for each performance, rewards multiple viewings for the way the change in personnel affects our perception of what is happening onstage. To date, the play has been performed more than 1000 times in 15 languages.

Soulemainpour’s latest offering follows a similar format. Every day, a different actor performs the 70-minute piece, with no prior knowledge of the script or the show’s content. At the opening performance of Nassim, which premiered as part of the Traverse programme at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the task was undertaken by the writer/performer Chris Thorpe, who threw himself into the unfolding narrative with an infectious, child-like excitement.

2. Nassim Soleimanpour. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Pic: David Monteith-Hodge

As in the Iranian playwright’s best-known work, Nassim subtly explores the ways that artists from authoritarian regimes find to push against censorship. The difference here is that Soulemainpour, who is now allowed to travel outside Iran, is himself present onstage for much of the running time, so that we witness at first hand the development of a friendship between two strangers, from introductions and taking tea, via the sharing of photos, jokes and anecdotes and a basic lesson in Farsi, to moving personal disclosures.

7. Nassim Soleimanpour. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Pic: David Monteith-Hodge

Soulemainpour’s revelations about his childhood, the loneliness of exile and separation from his family serve as gentle reminders of the things that unite rather than divide us. The framing of Nassim’s relationship with his mother (“Mumum” in Farsi) as a children’s story, complete with illustrations, proves a little cloying, and the fact that some of the play’s conclusions are presented as truisms, unquestioned and somewhat trite, is also something of a let down. Nonetheless, like White Rabbit, the piece contains some affecting moments, and Thorpe proves a wonderfully warm, energetic conduit for the story.

 

Box office: 0131 228 1404, to August 27

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