First published in The Times, Thursday September 1 2022
Pitlochry Festival Theatre has opened the doors on its smart 172-seater studio, not with fanfare and pageantry, but with a play of remarkable stillness and restraint. Sara Shaarawi’s two-hander about a pair of Iranian-born sisters sharing a flat in Edinburgh over a period of some 40 years, is unafraid to dwell on the silences, comfortable and uncomfortable, that open up between these two women at various points in their life.
The transistor radio that becomes the focal point of Becky Minto’s simple kitchen-cum-living-room set design keeps us apprised of the passing of time, from the girls’ childhood in Iran, when they would play at being presenters on “Sister Radio”, through the many geopolitical events that form the backdrop to their quiet lives.
Shirin’s (Nalân Burgess) arrival in Scotland in 1979 coincides with the first stirrings of the Iranian revolution. Wide-eyed, romantic and deeply attached to her homeland, she’s shocked to discover her older sister Fatemeh (Lana Joffrey) embracing her new-found independence in the West. Although the two women faithfully follow their daily ritual of trying to discern what the future holds in their coffee grounds, their lives are thrown into uncertainty when the Shah is overthrown and the Ayatollah sweeps to power back home. “I have my life here,” says Fatemeh, the more accepting of the two. “Can you imagine yourself old here?” asks the incredulous Shirin.
Shaarawi’s script jumps back and forth between the sisters’ early lives, and the recent past, when the Covid-19 pandemic rears its ugly head, and the women, still together, become housebound during lockdown. Burgess and Joffrey are skilled at ringing the changes in their characters, moving slowly in their old age, but feisty in each other’s company, still able to sway and throw shapes to their beloved Iranian pop music (the show has a lovely soundtrack by the composer Farzane Zamen).
Directed with quiet care by Caitlin Skinner, the co-production from Pitlochry and Stellar Quines offers a moving portrait of lives set down unexpected paths by both political events and personal choices, convincingly depicting the ways in which familiarity breeds not only contempt but also unspoken attachment and mutual reliance. The piece is understated in every way, but no less involving for that.
To Sep 28 and touring to Nov 12. Pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com