Just Festival (St John’s Church)
Mimi’s suitcase, written and performed by Ana Bayat, is a coming-of-age tale which takes us from Iran to Spain and England, using just a scarf, a suitcase, a coat and some wonderfully selected projections.
The play is a personal one, and Bayat is at her strongest as a storyteller. She skilfully evokes time and place, performing multiple characters, flicking between accents and languages with ease, with understanding aided by English subtitles. Particularly enjoyable to watch is her portrayal of a teenager, full of vibrancy and wide-eyed optimism. It was easy to relate to this teenager in Spain feeling mortified that her mother would want to meet a boy before he can take her on a first date. Music is effectively interwoven, with it providing the character of Mimi an escape from her reality, and signalling time shifts for the audience. Bayat is a great physical performer, and she never failed to fill the stage. There was great exploration of the experience of listening to music in the English language when you’re not an English speaker, approximating the lyrics to ‘You’re the one that I want’. When the character arrives in England, the learning process is explored with insight and warmth.
As well as being consistently entertaining, the performance teaches and informs. The show is a window into different cultures at different eras, much easier to relate to than depersonalised descriptions in news or history texts. Particularly illuminating for me were the scenes set in Iran. A stand out scene was of Mimi and her Auntie Kitty taking a moment to let their hair fly free from their headscarves on the freeway, with Bayat taking the audience with her through the discomfort and restriction, and the relief of the breeze. The scene that unfolds immediately after is an incredible example of power imbalance, and psychological threat. I won’t spoil it for you, but for me, this one incident cast light on realities of living under an oppressive regime, and will stick with me long after the festival has finished.
Bayat skilfully uses language – her comparison of Iranian women to liquorice, being able to twist and bend, without ever breaking was powerful. Similarly, her question ‘Did the same women who enjoyed Charlies Angels vote to cover up?’ resonated with me, with its accompanying explanation of the attritional nature of societal change illuminating. Female strength and resistance ran through the performance. Choosing passivity as a display of strength felt particularly poignant, with the explanation of choosing the path of least resistance and the phrase ‘This too shall pass.’ The resulting impression is of stoic strength, and a familiar reaction to adversity –successfully evoking a common humanity across cultures.
The performance is relentlessly energetic, and as a result, at one or two moments I was unclear of the location, or the time that had passed, for example, I was uncertain why she was flying out of an airport in Rome, but these moments were brief and it was easy to catch up with the momentum. Overall the pace was consistent, clear, and the ambitious and wide-ranging subject was dealt with effectively.
In the spectacular setting of St Johns Church, this play is an illuminating and entertaining fringe experience, and highly recommended.
Mimi’s Suitcase is at:
St Johns Church (8, 9, 11, 12 August at 9:30pm)
Quaker Meeting House (14-18 August at 8:30pm) and (21-26 August at 6:30pm)
More information, and also on the rest of the Just Festival can be found here.