7-31st August, 13.30
The Chronicles of Irania, a new collaboration between two of Scotland’s most exciting emerging female artists, is arguably the most poignant one-woman performance of the Fringe this year.
Welcome. Meet ‘Khadijeh’, your enigmatic and energetic host for the hour. Whilst comically mispronouncing names of front-row audience members, (‘ba-a-ba-ba-a-raa, nice to mee-eet you’), she will offer cardamon tea and traditional sweets. Yet suspicion lies beneath this warmth, as recognised by her words, ‘You are my guest and I am happy for this, but I must ask…are you spies?’ And it is through this vein The Chronicles of Irania’s stinging and sensitive issue, the weakness of women, lurks, under feminine charm. Like many others, Khadijeh’s light-hearted good will is darkened by tragedy and grief. The audience are not observers, but immersed into a relationship with Khadijeh and her struggle as intimate (and at times, as claustrophobic) as the walls surrounding us all. Her tragedy becomes ours; her struggles, universal.
As a one woman show, The Chronicles of Irania depends on Khadijeh’s (Maryam Hamidi) ability to engage with the audience. Indeed, she doesn’t let us flinch. As a feminist thinker in an oppressive environment, she is impressive. As a host she is loveable. And as a mother, her strength is admirable. Yet Khadijeh’s energetic narrative occasionally lapses into a voluble and melodramatic one, straying dangerously close to a minstrel cliché. Considering that the play is driven by the chilling proximity between her nation’s myths and our contemporary news stories, this is both disappointing and unnecessary. Indeed, in attempting to theatricalise the inherently dramatic and tragic, the play, ironically, dilutes its potential power.
But overall, The Chronicles of Irania is a moving, stunning, piece of political theatre. And with the script, unlike with her own story, whatever is lost in execution is later regained. ‘Khadijeh’ moves between stories of Irania’s history and contemporary struggles, and seamlessly so, with the help of a washing-line strung around her. This displays her beloved finger puppets, art work, and tape player. That this very device turns from representing the domesticity of her home to the instrument torturing her homosexual son epitomises the play’s many thought-provoking twists. This conceit itself is assumed into the narrative’s most prominent exposure: she is not here to inform us of the history of Irania, but to process and accept her own, more painful, experience. And as though mirroring her own life, her stories are interfered with, and abandoned unfinished.
This thoughtful piece of theatre uses interruptions as both a narrative device and as a symbol of her despair; of the broken stories of broken women, ‘so many stories trying to be told’. In this way, the sensitive issues become contextualised under a broader campaign for equality, justice, and compassion.
For those following the Fringe’s political or monologue theatre, or just to witness the strength and brilliance of this performance, The Chronicles of Irania cannot be missed.