“Theatre in itself is a rehearsed thing, but this is life — no rehearsals”
In an era of information overload, the unknown is refreshing – and where Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour is most comfortable. A master at removing actors from their comfort zones, he has fine-tuned his craft with his latest work, NASSIM, which is a study of the ability for language to unify and separate us.
Parts of the play will be performed in his native tongue, Farsi, for the first time, and in contrast to some of his previous works, the playwright will be working with a small production team.
His international debut and most popular play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, continues to amaze almost a decade on. A play requiring no set, no director, no rehearsal and a different actor cold-reading from a sealed script each night, White Rabbit Red Rabbit developed from Soleimanpour’s inability to travel out of his native country.
Unable to obtain a passport like other Iranian men who object to the country’s mandatory military service; his limited mobility, along with a dream about suicide and the need to share his feelings of isolation, were the catalysts for the creation of a play that could travel in his absence. A play that has been translated into over 25 languages and made its way to the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2012 – winning the festival’s award for best new performance.
Since then, Soleimanpour’s circumstances have changed, as he has since been granted a passport due to a medical exemption from military service. Splitting time between Berlin and Tehran, he has toured NASSIM 120 times in 12 different countries, and Dubliners who saw his first play will finally get the chance to see Soleimanpour perform his own words.
“That’s if I get my visa in time,” he says with a laugh over the phone from his home in Tehran. “The Irish visa is a tough one.” He tells me about the mounds of paperwork and documents involved in the process of his journey to Ireland.
An instant success upon its debut at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, NASSIM carries a similar DNA to his plays White Rabbit Red Rabbit, and Blank. The difference is that Soleimanpour will finally grace the stage.
“Yes, the play is similar, but the structure has evolved into something more complicated. It is more of a production I would say.”
Having had a hand in running festivals and working as a producer early on in his career, he chooses not to be involved in the casting process. Previous performances of his work have attracted heavyweights such as Whoopi Goldberg and John Hurt – a testament to the strength of the playwright’s words.
“Theatre in itself is a rehearsed thing, but this is life — no rehearsals. It’s a happening that keeps us on our toes, and audiences like to root for the brave performer. I am in a way an audience member because I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s like, who is the performer? Who is the audience? Who is the writer?”
Each night, a local actor joins Soleimanpour on stage and is presented with the script for the first time. And at the time of writing this article, a Twitter post from actor Stephen Jones (Dublin Oldschool) announced his excitement at being cast as one of the seven actors that will appear in NASSIM.
Like the directors of The Fever, which also employs an element of secrecy, Soleimanpour maintains a faith in the people involved in his work. He relinquishes a significant amount of trust to the process and the moment. He is also confident that he has created an instruction manual that when followed, works seamlessly.
“Trust – I can easily trust anyone. As long as I’m prepared with the machine I have designed. This script is a certain type of machine. I am responsible for the description and construction – like a well-made car. And if the design is complete, we need someone with a driving license that can operate the vehicle. My job is to ensure that the brakes don’t stop working in the middle of the road and cause a car crash. Whereas, the driver is in control of the speed, the route we’re gonna take, what music is played in the car etc. We don’t want a car crash because if that happens, then it’s the fault of my design.”
Soleimanpour’s work is meant to be in the moment, and actors involved are advised to not search the internet beforehand or ask what the play is about. For research purposes, prior to our interview I read detailed reviews of both White Rabbit Red Rabbit and NASSIM and immediately regretted doing so. The whole premise is the element of surprise. So, for your sake dear reader, I will not tell you anything about NASSIM, in terms of what you are going to see on stage. You will just have to trust him as he trusts you.
Words: Rose Ugoalah
Project Arts Centre (Cube), October 2 to 7, (2–5, 7.45pm; 6, 3.45pm & 7.45pm; 7, 4.45pm), €20-€25