Shakespeare in Farsi: London’s Saam Theatre Group Turns Newly Arrived Iranians into Actors

By Susanna Huth

Every September, a Persian-English theater festival is organized in London. Highly popular with the Iranian community, it brings together drama talents from all over the world to celebrate aspects of Iranian culture in both Farsi and English.

The festival is the brainchild of the Saam Theatre Group, founded in 2002 by Soussan Farrokhnia – a charitable organization that aims to help London’s Iranian population integrate into society through the performing arts.

The group also runs a weekly production workshop, aimed at giving Iranians of all ages confidence and a sense of belonging. In the workshops, participants can gain basic skills or prepare for bigger productions.

Farrokhnia, who grew up in Iran, has extensive experience in the theater. She was inspired to create a platform in London for those who, back in Iran, had been unable to experience theater to the fullest.

“Theater was very restrictive there,” she recalls. “Girls had to be covered up and could not touch the boys on stage.” For Iranians who have just moved to Britain, performing on stage can be an unusual and exciting pursuit.

Along with teaching acting skills, Farrokhnia’s workshops help those still uncomfortable with the English language to engage with theater content in English. Workshops are designed and run by Sahba Ladjevardi, who studied at the University of London’s Institute of Education and has worked on similar projects for the past 10 years. The aim of the workshops is to persuade drama students to perform a play in English instead of Persian.

Currently, members are working on a Persian adaptation of Macbeth, set to be performed in January 2018. The play is being adapted into Persian. The hope is that it will attract an English audience interested in seeing Shakespeare with a Persian twist.