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Growing weaker
Amir Reza Koohestani's play in London's Royal Court


July 21, 2005

Young playwright and director Amir Reza Koohestani's take on the pregnant woman: “It doesn't kick like they say, but when I walk it feels like a bucket of water is shifting around in my stomach. I always worry I might lose it one day when I go to the toilet.”

Amid The Clouds (Dar Miyan-e-Abrha), which runs at London’s Royal Court until July 23, charts the journey of two Iranian refugees travelling across Europe to the UK: the oddly-named Imour (Hassan Madjooni) and the woman known as “the girl” [“een dokhtareh”] (Shiva Fallahi).

The story, of which there is little, is largely conveyed through monologues loaded with confused metaphors. Take when Imour says (in the translation by Vali Mahlouji): “I dream of my mother who has two shotguns hanging from her breasts which she can’t detach no matter how hard she tries. The guns are sucking her milk and with every suck she grows weaker and thinner, and there is nothing she can do. Finally she puts her hand on the triggers and fires.”

Water enters Imour’s ears that never comes out again and means he always hears the “sound of the sea”. At times, the actors are submerged in one of three Damien Hirst-style fish tanks. These in turns evoke a river, amniotic fluid and Damien Hirst-style fish tanks. At one point, just before a shave, Imour produces a fish, anybody’s guess why.

Mid-journey, in Eastern Europe, Imour describes the locals: “Mostly racist fundamentalists who've got it in for the Moslems; and with all her veils and wraps, this girl is a good target.” Imour adds: “This girl’s headscarf is my only worry -- the woman’s veil is more hateful to these nude and naked Europeans [than a man’s moustache]”.

The refugee fleeing the injustices of an Islamic system is willing to risk being attacked by racists rather then expose her hair. Later she talks of going to a mosque. Why she left Iran in the first place is a mystery -- a woman who appears to have willed a miraculous conception because she could not bear the touch of a man.

Preggers woman on a plane: "It's cloudy here and there's a lot of turbulence. It's making me feel sick.” Deeper insight follows: “There's so much I don't know about pregnancy. My emotions have changed. My pains are different. I don't see blood anymore.” Later, in a fit of craving she wants nothing more than a “hot meal, a glass of tea or even hot water.”

Imour’s reference to kessafat kari, (filthy business) Mahlouji’s unhelpfully translates to “sex”. He gets a bar job in a Croatia-Slovenia border town: “There's an elderly woman ... who runs this place with a Croatian girl. This girl's the only official prostitute in the area. She's not bad looking, either. She hasn't lost her looks yet, fucking three or four times a day with the randy, tough locals. And she's doing well.”

Smugglers and travellers keep her so busy “she hasn't got time to stand behind the bar anymore, and that's why they needed someone -- both to take care of the till and to stop any rowdiness.”

The West is a place for pimps and whores. “We watched so many dirty films that in the end they made a bunch of perverts out of us. Although, for my part I admit, there are still details of this field of filth that I am keen to get to grips with -- everyone's a little intrigued by the workings of the groin.” Indeed.

The Royal Court believes that this production might be banned in Iran. This is surprising. Laced as it is with Qoranic prayer, and a Virgin Mary theme that attempts to draw parallels with Christianity, its Islamic credentials are intact. The asylum seekers it portrays didn’t leave the country for political reasons. They are coming to England to visit the mosques.

It is no surprise Iran Heritage Foundation deigned to lend this production a hand. On the press night Iran’s ambassador attended -- the embassy provided a feast after the show, which probably accounts for the okay reviews it got the next day. When went there, there was no feast and we could not swallow the play’s naïve assessment of women and refugees.

For letters section
To Peyvand Khorsandi

Peyvand Khorsandi



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