Mimi’s Suitcase ***

Theatre

Quaker Meeting House

Venue 40

18.30 (run ends 26th Aug) 

Ana Bayat was born in Iran, grew up in Spain, studied in France and England, and now lives in California.  A multi-talented actress, she has written this largely autobiographical show in which she performs in at least three languages – blessedly with subtitles for those of us who are not fluent in anything other than English!

 

We are first invited to a party in Teheran in 1984, where teenagers are dancing under the watchful eyes of their older relatives – until suddenly the moral police burst in and drag off to prison anyone they feel is failing to conform to the strict moral code they have decided governs the only correct way to behave.  ‘Mimi’ then tells us what life was like in Iran under the Shah, how she and her family fled to Spain after his downfall, and how they returned to Iran to rejoin their father after he returned there from the USA, only to find how much had changed in their absence.

 

Ana is an accomplished actress, switching effortlessly from sulky Spanish teenager to gruff and frightening ‘moral policeman’ to Iranian ‘auntie’, giving a very clear picture of and commentary on the different cultures in which she finds herself.  We see her struggles with the conflict between the life she learned to live in Spain and the way she is expected to live now, learn how ‘clandestine video rental guy’ saved her life with western films and pop videos, and wonder with her how she can escape this appallingly restrictive society to which she has been confined?   Theatre becomes her raison d’être – but when even that becomes subject to the moral police Mimi realises that applying to study abroad is her only hope: and so begins a new chapter of her life, still with her faithful suitcase in her hand.

 

This show was a fascinating window into life in widely different cultures which the audience found entertaining and moving in equal measure.  It shows us a woman of considerable ingenuity, resourcefulness, and resilience, and reminds us that it is possible to survive appalling situations without bitterness and hatred, while also pointing out the terrible things people will do in the name of an ideology, and how repression can be a slowly creeping tide as well as a crushing tsunami.

 

Mary Woodward