A window on the Middle East at the Edinburgh Fringe

Both the Middle East and the immigrant experience have influenced this year's Edinburgh Fringe, which wrapped up after almost four weeks yesterday.
A scene from Silken Veils featuring the adult character Darya, right, with the shadow of her father.
A scene from Silken Veils featuring the adult character Darya, right, with the shadow of her father.

The performer leans a heavy hand on top of the battered suitcases and begins the story of her life as a young Iranian woman raised in the US.

Silken Veil, written, directed and acted by Leila Ghaznavi, is a prime example of how both the Middle East and the immigrant experience have influenced the Edinburgh Fringe, which wrapped up after almost four weeks yesterday.

"For the first generation that steps into a new society, the question is what are they're going to let go," says Ghaznavi, 32. "For the second generation, the choice is what they're going to take on."

Silken Veil mirrors Ghaznavi's own experiences. She grew up in Pennsylvania; her father is from Iran, her mother from West Virginia.

"As a teenager, I wasn't Iranian at all. I flat out refused to learn Farsi," she says. "Through my theatre work, I started taking on more and more of my Middle Eastern heritage. Now I'm learning Farsi and very proud of it. Now I don't eat pork - I used to love it as a kid. It's not that I'm Islamic, but it's something from my cultural identity I can take on every day. I also make an undulating cry when other people clap. And now when people say, 'Iranian? You don't look it!' I get mad."

Another offering was playwright Hywel John's Rose, a powerful production about an immigrant Arab father and his daughter, written specifically for the Pakistani-born actor Art Malik and his real-life daughter Keira, 28. Her older sister Jessica, 30, serves as the show's producer.

The setting of the play, which the trio have high hopes of bringing to the Middle East, is a one-room London bedsit where the father, Arthur, is hiding his never-specified Middle Eastern heritage and struggling to bring up his daughter on his own. He has called her Rose, hoping she will become the perfect English woman. But Rose rebels and reverts to Islam.

"The problem is the move from assimilation to multiculturalism in this society," says Malik. "People of Arthur's generation were required to assimilate and were told to forget about their history. It was irrelevant, it wasn't important. You just had to be British.

"Then you got the new multiculturalism. Now we're all from elsewhere, we're not from here, but we all live together. And therefore you need to find an identity within a pluralistic society."

Malik, a 58-year-old actor with a long career in movies including A Passage to India and True Lies, feels as though he is British. He was born into a traditional Muslim family and brought up in London, where his father studied medicine. In the past, he has been frank about the conflict he felt between his strict upbringing and his own very different ambitions for his future. Now he is more understanding.

"In Rose, you finally realise who Arthur is, who Rose is, and what she's had to deal with in terms of his dysfunctionality," says Malik.

The theme of dysfunctional families unable to communicate across the generations continued in Midnight Your Time, a one-woman play by Adam Brace about a middle-aged mother (played superbly by the veteran British actress Diana Quick) making weekly webcam calls to her daughter who is working with refugees in Palestine. Although the one-way conversation takes place in north London, Brace picked the Middle East with purpose.

"Palestine is somewhere people are trying to create dialogue," he says.

There were several offerings set in the Middle East, too. Menagerie Theatre Company's Four for Jericho took the audience on a manic journey through the West Bank desert, exploring politics through physical theatre. An exuberant Arabian Nights by Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre kept audiences enthralled with brass lanterns, scarlet sequinned costumes, plundered gold, comic donkeys and cries of "Open Sesame!"

Most of the offerings that focused on the Middle East, however, attempted to address the confusion inherent in being brought up in one place, but somehow coming from another. Ghaznavi was able to understand much better during her first trip to Iran last year.

"I realised that the quirks about my dad were quirks about being Iranian," she says. "I thought - Wow! That's it! It's not personal conflict, it's cultural conflict.'"

Published: August 30, 2011 04:00 AM


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