English by The RSC and Kiln Theatre Review

English by The RSC and Kiln Theatre Review


Posted 2024-05-18 by Alison in Birmingham follow

Wed 15 May 2024 - Sat 29 Jun 2024

The Pulitzer-winning play, English, is making its European debut in the UK and I was staggered at how enlightening it was. At only 90 minutes, it didn't take long to leave me with a lasting legacy of having more understanding and compassion towards immigrants to the UK and other countries.

Opening in Stratford-upon-Avon before transferring later to London, the play by Iranian-American writer Sanaz Toossi cleverly examines how much language, especially when it's not your own, affects everything from identity to belonging.

It may seem like a heavy topic but this play is light and breezy with plenty of wit. It's set in an Iranian classroom where adults are taking a course for English as a second language. Along with the teacher Marjan, there are four adult students with very different reasons for taking part.

Gradually the audience gets to understand each of their personalities, reasonings and even secrets as each week passes. Among them, there's older Roya(Lanna Joffrey) who wants to communicate better with her English-speaking grandchild in Canada and straight-talking Elham (Serena Manteghi), who seems to detest English but needs it to further her scientific career in Australia.

Their reticence and objection to anglicising names, changing their accents or why English is so dominant worldwide compared to their native Farsi make for some lively and emotional discussions in the class. That along with the personal stories makes this drama multi-layered and always fascinating.

In contrast, their teacher Marjan(Nadia Albina), enthusiastic teenager Goli(Sara Hazemi) and fast learner Omid(Nojan Khazai) embrace being able to speak a new language other than their own. Marjan in particular adores English and has a back-story of living in Manchester for nine years that is itching to be fully revealed. It's slowly eeked out during the play as are the relationships forming between various characters in the class.

The Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC) has co-produced English with London's Kiln Theatre. It's now on at RSC's Other Place theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until June 1. It then transfers to London, where it runs at Kiln Theatre from June 5 to 29.

It's one of the most memorable plays I've seen this year but it really hit a chord with me. My own dad came to the UK over 50 years ago and he thinks and speaks in English now like a native. Yet, early on, I was thinking how he must have felt like some of these characters.

Marjan's soliloquy towards the finale about the limitations of being abroad speaking English is very moving. How you are judged and don't have the ability at first to make people laugh or express yourself fully in a new language was fascinating to me.

Diyan Zora directs and keeps a zesty tempo interlaced with plenty of comedy. The use of the whiteboard is wonderfully funny as are sequences involving a Shakira song and Richard Curtis movies like Notting Hill.

The play by Toossi gives Zora plenty to work with and it's especially clever it symbolises when the actors are speaking in English or Farsi by what accents they use. It's the reverse of what it would be with their very local English accents being when they are talking in Farsi.

I found English completely compelling. It's tender, funny and hugely thought-provoking. It really is a must-see and you'll feel all the better for catching this stand-out Pulitzer winner.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

The Other Place RSC theatre is at 22 Southern Lane, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6BH. English runs there until June 1 and tickets cost £15 - £30 from the RSC website here.

The Kiln Theatre is located at 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR. English runs there from June 5 to 29. See the Kiln website here for more information and tickets.

286195 - 2024-05-16 19:13:35


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