Steven Gaythorpe, dramaturgy by Ben Ayrton
Northern Stage, Newcastle

Serena Manteghi and Tarrick Benham
Serena Manteghi and Matt Jamie
Serena Manteghi, Tarrick Benham and Matt Jamie

HEART is a love story, a triangular love story set against a background of international intrigue and UK/US-sponsored revolution in Iran in 1953. Its protagonists are young Iranian woman Leili (Serena Manteghi), her British husband Arthur (Matt Jamie) and her Syrian lover, the poet Kais (Tarrick Benham).

ZENDEH has a unique style: its focus is on story-telling and uses whatever techniques will tell the story most effectively. Here, as one of the protagonists is a poet, poetry is an essential part of the love story and, as so often with this company, so is physical theatre which verges on dance.

There are oblique references to Shakespeare: a heart-shaped box containing sleeping pills replaces the potion which puts Juliet into her seeming death (although it desn't serve such a function here, for Leili never took them but saved them) but also becomes Romeo's vial of poison, and Kais scatters his declarations of love as Orlando decorated the trees of the Forest of Arden with his love poems.

Symbolism, too, is an important part of the mix: red rose petals become blood, firmly linking death and love together; a glass of tea differentiates the Iranian from the British; a tape recorder and the voice of a BBC announcer on the radio (played by Nicholas Baumfield) both symbolise and express the Western interference in Iranian affairs.

Whilst dialogue comprises a substantial part of the text, direct addressing of the audience by Leili plays a significant role.

In other words, this is a multi-layered piece, mingling the Romeo and Juliet-like story of doomed love with international Realpolitik through a number of theatrical techniques which director Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh blends seamlessly and effectively together.

It demands a lot of the cast and they deliver, drawing the audience into a world which is distant in time (and, to a large extent, in place) and yet, in the political sense, very contemporary for behind the international machinations lies that enduring problem, oil.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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