OzAsia review: Once upon a time there was Nassim

We can’t reveal too much about this unusual, inventive and tender play – but it may crumple your heart.

Nov 02, 2018, updated Nov 02, 2018

Yeki bood yeki nabood … Once upon a time there was an Iranian playwright who created unconventional plays that travelled far and wide.

One of them, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, was performed in many foreign lands by actors including the likes of Stephen Fry and Whoopi Goldberg, yet the writer was unable to travel with it himself because for a long time he was prevented from holding a passport.

And while his plays were translated into more than 30 languages, he yearned to create a work which his own maman could understand, in their mother tongue of Farsi.

The playwright is Nassim Soleimanpour and that new work, described as “an audacious theatrical experiment”, is Nassim.

It’s a play unlike anything audiences will have seen before, presented in an intimate theatre on a simple stage featuring a chair and a desk with a box on top, a large red X on the floor, a mic stand and a screen.

Each night, a different performer will enter the stage, open the box and read Soleimanpour’s script – which has been translated into English, but which the actor has never previously seen or had a chance to rehearse.

On Nassim‘s opening night at OzAsia, that performer was Australian rapper Joel Ma (aka Joelistics), who reminded us he was not actually an actor, yet also insisted he wasn’t scared by the fact that he was venturing into unknown territory. We were, after all, in this together.

What unfolded was indeed unexpected.

There were gentle twists and turns; there was laughter and there were tears – including from Ma, who is endearing and engaging and takes everything in his stride.

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It’s not giving too much away to say that the play explores the beauty of words and the way in which language can both divide people and bring them together.

There’s tea, a picture book, a passport, swear words, smartphones and tomatoes. You will learn some Farsi and you will learn more about Nassim Soleimanpour. If you’re lucky, you’ll also learn something intimate about the performer who is presenting his work.

Perhaps Nassim occasionally veers towards being too sentimental, but the uniqueness of the experience means we’re inclined to allow it this indulgence – especially because, by the end, we’re all complicit in the new friendships and connections being formed.

Soleimanpour notes that a story is like a breeze: it can’t be caught in a net. And this story deserves to travel far and wide.

Nassim is being presented at the AC Arts Theatre until Saturday as part of the OzAsia Festival, with tonight’s performance featuring actor Paul Blackwell and Saturday’s featuring TV presenter, actor and comedian Alex Lee. Read more InDaily and CityMag OzAsia Festival stories and reviews here.

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