Photo by Ali Wright. Peyvand Sadeghian pictured
There is a raw energy to ‘Dual’ that brings an electricity to the dark, dampness of the Pit at the Vault Festival. I’d already heard a fair bit of buzz around this show, before setting foot in the room and grabbing a seat in a front row pew. However, as I avoid reading about shows before I see and review them (you don’t need me regurgitating other people’s responses), the buzz remained a non-specific background noise, finally silenced by the opening moments of the show.
In essence ‘Dual’ is a one-woman performance piece about identity as a multitude rather than a singular simple thing (lets leave one dimensional visions of identity to the xenophobes and racists, thank you very much). Written and performed by Peyvand Sadeghian, this is a personal and explorative piece about the challenge of belonging to two very different cultures. Peyvand becomes both Peyvand and Parisa, two girls, two women, from two different countries, England and Iran. While this is about a very specific experience, there is a universality to the fact that we all have moments in our lives where we could have gone very different ways. These may not be as dramatic as growing up in radically different cultures, but nonetheless that alternative version of you continues to exist, lurking in the corners of your mind. In the case of ‘Dual’ on her return to England Peyvand continues to be haunted and influenced by Parisa, the girl she left in behind in Iran. Although this is very much a symbiotic relationship, as Parisa is also infected with Peyvand’s Britishness and why wouldn’t she be? They are the same person after all.
Above and beyond personal narrative, ‘Dual’ is a stirring piece of political theatre. Our own apathy is held up to us through confronting elements of audience interaction (for the introverts out there, sit in the shadowy edges and you’ll be fine). Although I would argue that the ability to be spontaneously and loudly opinionated within a theatre space is not a fair measure of how politically engaged a person or group is. Looking at how much we let our government get away with, now that is much more damning. But I digress. In terms of its political aspirations, this feels like a show that wants to provoke and prompt questions, without claiming to have the answers. How much would it actually take for a revolution to take place in England? What would the desired outcome of such a revolution even look like? Are we so firmly entrenched in the belief that revolutions are for other people in far off places like Egypt and Iran? To be honest once I really started to drill down into the provocations of the show, the broader political questions started to feel like red herrings, which may well explain why at times these moments could feel a little disconnected and tagged on. The geopolitics is very relevant for the personal history being shared, but in terms of the political question raised by the show, I’d argue that it is much more focused than that. Ultimately I was left questioning the role of theatre itself: should it provide just another space for passive entertainment, or should it challenge us to be better and do more?
While this may all sound like hard work for an audience, Nastazja Somers direction ensures that the humour and humanity in Sadeghian’s play shines through. This is not a passive viewing experience, and for those skipping the gym to go to the theatre, the good news is that there is a mini workout baked into the show. Getting us physically moving and engaging from the very beginning is a clever way to break down barriers between audience and performer. If we are moving our arms, they can’t be crossed protectively in front of us. We are forced out of the one-way street of pure observation.
‘Dual’ is full of interesting ideas and provocations. As an overall piece it still feels like it is developing and finding itself. I was excited to be part of its journey at this stage, and hope I get to witness its on-going evolution.
‘Dual’ runs at Vault Festival until 23rd February in the 9pm slot, with an additional 4.30pm matinee on Sat 22nd February.