London Play Highlights Stories of Iranian Expatriates and Migrants

By Tara Biglari

“Citizen,” a new play on the plight of Iranian expatriates, migrants and refugees, made its debut earlier this week at the Space in London’s Isle of Dogs, attracting sizable crowds.

Produced by the award-winning theater company Suitcase Civilians, the play — which is based on interviews with real-life Iranian expatriates and migrants, and runs through May 5 — has three plot lines: a British mother arrested while visiting family overseas, a family of political refugees fleeing to Australia, and American citizens finding themselves stuck abroad after President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from the U.S.

“Citizen” was written and directed by Sepy Baghaei, who won the award for best production at the Short+Sweet Sydney festival in 2012. Sepy experienced displacement firsthand: her parents fled Iran in the 1990’s and settled in Australia. She has channeled her family’s experiences to produce a meaningful story that resonates with Iranians and non-Iranians alike.

Her production draws the audience in with Middle-Eastern songs, in-depth monologues and real-life speeches by politicians. At one point, Iranian tea and dates are even distributed to attendees.

  • Actor David Djemal delivering a monologue. Photo: Sepy Baghaei

A key source of inspiration was the story of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran for over two years on charges of espionage. Sepy, who used Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s diary entries to construct the story, said she felt “a sense of duty to all Iranian people” who were being impacted by these issues.

“As I reflect […] on what I want audiences to get out of it, one word comes to mind,” Sepy wrote in a blog post for The Space. “Hope.”

Despite the sadness of the stories told in the play, there is indeed a sense of hope. The act of drawing attention to human episodes is uplifting not only for the producers and the actors, but for audience members.

“We all want and need the same things, and the more we remember this, the more each of us can contribute to a more equal society,” said Sepy.

  • Actress Nalân Burgess delivering a monologue based on an Australian Prime Minister's speech.Photo: Sepy Baghaei

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