Art And Culture

Stage Reading of English Plays

Sports, Art & Culture Desks
Stage Reading of English Plays
Stage Reading of English Plays

For the first time the stage reading of a foreign play in its original language was held at Baran Theatre Hall in Tehran on December 19.

The play ‘Old Times’ by the Nobel laureate English playwright Harold Pinter (1930-2008), not translated in Persian yet, was read by the Lebowski Group.

First performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1971, the play has since been staged over 20 times in Europe, North America and Australia, with the last performance held earlier this year in New York starring the famous Hollywood actor Clive Owen.

Members of the Lebowsky group Khosro Pesyani, Niusha Mahdavi and Anahita Safarnejad read the English script for the audience while seated, a characteristic of stage reading. There is no need for sets or full costumes and actors may also stand in fixed positions or incorporate minimal stage movements while reading from the text.

Led by theatre director Hamid Dashti, the young group started its work performing ‘A Slight Ache’ written by Pinter for an audience of university students in 2012. It continued with two more plays by American playwrights, Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge’ in 2013 and ‘Outside Mullingar’ by John Patrick Shanley in 2014.

All the three performances were in English and were received warmly by the university students. The group then decided to expand its activities and read for the public.

Prior to this, a couple of Iranian plays were performed in Tehran in English like ‘Cho’s Manifest’ written and directed by Mohammad Rahmanian in 2008, but no foreign plays were performed or even read in its original language.

“As translation cannot fully convey the shades of meaning associated with a text, I have conducted the previous three plays and this stage reading all in English,” Dashti told the Financial Tribune.

  Language Challenge

Finding actors who speak fluent English has been the main challenge for the young director. “Among those who have studied arts, there are few who are good at speaking English,” Dashti noted.

However, considering the fact that the actors are non-native and their mother tongue is way different from English, they did really well reading the rather difficult text of one of the best works of Pinter.

“We had three months of practice and there was an accent advisor who helped us a lot in the process,” Mahdavi, one of the two actresses of the play said, noting that the real challenge for her is to make the audience believe she is a native speaker and accept her in the role she played.

‘Old Times’ is about Deeley and his wife Kate who are visited by Anna, a mysterious friend of Kate’s from long ago. What begins as a trip down memory lane quickly becomes something more, as long-simmering feelings of fear and jealousy begin to fuel the trio’s passions, sparking a battle for power.

“It was an interesting and a challenging script with deep layers of meanings which I liked. I also found the character I was going to play, Kate, very similar to myself so I could create a strong connection with the text and the role,” Mahdavi noted.

The stage reading had only two showings in one night.


Abbas Khadem, co-producer with Dashti believes that Iran theatre is still not ready to have such performances as a routine. “We wanted to assess the impact on the audience. Furthermore, it is an inexpensive way to get a new play before an audience”.

Khadem pointed out to the vision of the group which is expanding their activities first in the country and then on the international scene. “We want to move forward gradually and steadily, starting from a limited stage reading as a first step. In the next step, we will stage another work in an original language.”

Dashti has finished translation of ‘Old Times’ into Persian which is due for publishing soon. He plans to translate his future works as well. “For later plays I decide to translate the text and publish it in Persian concurrently with staging the work. This way the audience whose English is not perfect enough to understand the whole play, can refer to the book wherever needed”.

The nascent group is still at the beginning of their long journey, but their purpose is to build among Iranians a culture of listening to famous plays in the original language and help their understanding of foreign masterpieces.