A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

30 Bird Productions presents

Poland 3 Iran 2

 

 

by Mehrdad Seyf and Chris Dobrowolski

 
Produced by Claire Summerfield

 

Toynbee Studios

 

31 May – 4 June 2011
Then on Tour until 7, June 2011

 

Down a discrete path, hidden from the hustle and bustle of Commercial road, lies Toynbee Studios. In the secluded forecourt, a communal gardening initiative takes place, teaching city kids the virtues of organic farming, an apt purpose, as this building once was the home of the first East London Boy Scout Group. The red brick façade features an original clock tower frozen at a minute to three, which was destroyed in the blitz and restored in 1965. Like the clock tower, Poland 3 Iran 2 is also frozen in time, at the auspicious occasion of a football match during the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

History and heritage are entertainingly explored in this informal two hander devised by Seyf and Dobrowolski. Through the framework of this football match, both men are able to discuss their family’s pasts, their cultural differences and the sense of national identity for two men with foreign backgrounds who've spent most of their lives living in the UK.

Despite the awkward seating arrangements and lack of space to manoeuvre, the bar of Toynbee Studios provides a relaxed space for Seyf and Dobrowolski to amuse the audience in an offhand, colloquial style, reminiscent of the Edinburgh Fringe, where the play debuted in 2010. They amicably recreate the laid back atmosphere of a pub, which they state as the “natural setting” for the show.

Seyf and Dobrowolski take it in turns to entertain us with anecdotes about their families, using only a slide show to inform the performance. Seyf juxtaposes the politically volatile climate of Iran during the revolution of 1979, with contemporary demonstrations against the clearly rigged elections, through powerful images. He shows how his own past was inextricably linked to these crises, when he describes how his uncle was arrested for disagreeing with the regime during the time of the Shah, only to be imprisoned; however, his outspokenness eventually cost him his life, when Khomeini took over. But in the depth of all this tragedy over protests and censorship, Seyd returns to humour, displaying through holiday snaps his regrettable talent for being on a beach during times of revolutionary fervour.

Seyf also recounts his father's, (a high ranking member of the communist party), attempts to reconcile his principles with his desire for his future wife, (Seyf's mother), a beautiful woman whose natural flair for posing in family photos belies the enormous influence Hollywood films exerted on the Iranian people before state censorship. In ironic contrast, Seyf claims Iran is now the most popular place in the world for sex change operations. The Iranian government have refused Seyf permission to return to Iran to discuss his previous show Plastic which deals with this issue, despite the fact that he was born there.

Essex born Dobrowolski brings a plain speaking, frankness to the show, which balances Seyf's gentler probing of the past. Dobrowolski paces up and down, waving a stick about in the manner of an old school master, as he gets rather worked up about the difference in quality between 1970’s Football sticker albums and Subbuteo scoreboards. Yet Dobrowolski has an equally fascinating story to tell about how in the WW II, many Poles in captivity in Siberia were sent by the Russians to Iran to form the Polish Army after Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. Thus Dobrowolski's father found himself greeted with a hero's welcome in Iran, where he fought in the artillery core. Clearly Dobrowolski has inherited his father's frankness and penchant for colourful language, which he learnt when he arrived in Britain, and worked as a carpenter. He entertainingly recounts his father's obsession with building sheds and the relics of his childhood he discovers in them. Particular objects act as triggers to his past - an old football belonging to his brother, brings back his resentment of his 'sporty' sibling. Even his train set is lovingly recreated in a bizarre installation where you sit on what resembles a wooden out house and put your head through a hole, where a toy train is riding around a track, playing music on the record player beneath you. Dobrowolski is keen to point out he went to 'art school' and not 'drama school' but undermines all sense of pretension with his down to earth, working class stance, all taken with a pinch of salt. He manages to convey the frustration of his childhood self going on holidays to Poland, where there was no Disney Warsaw but instead memorials to the Holocaust.

Poland 3 Iran 2 is an effortlessly enjoyable show, retelling the narrative of Seyf and Dobrowolski’s families through objects and photos from their childhoods, while the glorious game ties together each of their own stories. This is a nostalgic show, unafraid of subversive humour or offending people. It shows how two completely different families could overcome some of the most tragic events and totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, to allow their offspring to exchange witty banter over a pint while watching a game of football.

 

Toynbee Studios
28 Commercial Street
London E1 6AB
31 May – 4 June
7.30 pm
£7
Box Office: 020 7650 2350
http://www.artsadmin.co.uk/events/2859

 

Mon 7 June 8pm
Nottingham Hatch Festival at Nottingham Forest FC
The City Ground Nottingham NG2 5FJ
Tickets £5, £3
Box Office 0115 941 9419 http://www.neatfestival.co.uk
Polish Cultural Institutewww.polishculture.org.uk

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