Following on from the successful run of the Farnham Maltings’ Theatre Company production of It’s A Wonderful Life, the company now brings a new, contemporary show The Iranian Feast. After originally touring in 2013, the play makes it return to the Maltings this Spring with a mix of former cast members and also some new portrayals. We sat down with the cast; Mick Strobel, Natalia Campbell and Hannah Paybarah, and director, Gavin Stride, in the early stages of their rehearsals to discuss the play and what it means to be touring around the country’s village halls again.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of the plot and the characters?
Gavin: Without wanting to give too much away, it is essentially about a family in crisis who have to make the decision about their future. The play is set in Tehran, Iran and over the course of the play, we learn about this family’s aspirations for the future as well as some underlying issues, both political and cultural.
Mick: I play Abbas, the father and head of the family. At this time, he has a secret and the whole premise of the play is to find out what he has been hiding. He has invited the whole family round for dinner, which incidentally is the audience, to inform them of what’s been going on.
Natalia: Myself and Mick’s characters have seen Iran through significant changes in its political and social history, i.e. the fall of the Shah in the revolution of 1979. They see the naivety in their daughter, Eli, who is exposed to what technology and the Internet tells her, rather than experiencing real life.
Hannah: My character, Eli essentially feels trapped in the family. She feels she is merely existing and not living, and is desperate to get out and see the world.
Why this culture? And why perform it in this period of time?
Natalia: We want the audience to realise how similar different cultures are. In our day-to-day lives, we only see what the media portrays of these countries and often it can feel that their ideas and practices are totally alien to ours. What we aim to show is that whilst they may live in a different place and under different ideas, they are still a normal family who sit down for dinner and discuss their hopes for the future. We hope that we can break down the barrier between the mass media portrayal of these societies by performing in rural, village halls.
Why are village halls the most appropriate venue to perform this particular play in? How do they make the audience feel immersed in the story?
Gavin: Using various village halls as our venues enables the barrier between the cast and audience to fundamentally be dissolved. The audience are an integral part to the play, as they act as the extended family members that Abbas has invited round for dinner. They sit around the performance area, like in a Cabaret theatre, and are served food by the actors as the play goes on. This connection between us is only successfully achieved in a smaller, more intimate venue.
Natalia: We want the audience to feel as if the 4th wall has been broken down between us and them. It’s a naturalistic play, with no major effects or costumes. Everything feels authentic and real, and we want them to believe in us as the characters as much as possible. The smaller halls help us to achieve this effect.
Hannah: We want them to believe that we truly are those people, even if they see us off-stage. There won’t necessarily be a curtain call or bow at the end, as that again separates us from them.
What do you hope the audience will feel like when they leave the performance?
Natalia: We hope that they leave with a greater understanding of the world and that whilst it’s very easy to judge a book by its cover, when you are exposed to the media’s portrayal of their society every day, we hope that through this play, people can see that family matters most across many different cultures.
Mick: We have confidence in the fact that through touring villages previously, people really immerse themselves in the characters and story. Whilst the costumes are traditional and authentic, we believe that as the play goes on the initial focus on this, moves away as the audience gets to know the characters more. If they have seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and felt immersed in that style of theatre, then they will certainly enjoy this.
The Iranian Feast will open on Fri 04 March at Farnham Maltings before touring to 30 venues across the country over March and April. Find out details of their full tour here.