Kicking off Act 1 of Soulpepper’s 2023 season is English, written by Sanaz Toossi. Co-directed by Anahita Dehbonehie and Guillermo Verdecchia, English is making a smashing Canadian Premiere in this co-production with The Segal Centre for Performing Arts. A moving exploration of language and identity, English is a heartwarming story, beautifully told, and not to be missed.
English has an entirely Iranian cast, along with several of the creatives behind-the-scenes, which gives the performance a level of truth and honesty that I don’t believe could be accomplished any other way. I am thankful that I live in a a time and place where we are able to explore and celebrate cultures and experiences from all over the world through art and theatre. I’m also thankful that there are companies like Soulpepper, amongst many others, who are making sharing these kinds of works a priority.
English has an absolutely phenomenal cast who had me riveted from the first to final moments. Ghazal Partou delivers a stunning performance as Marjan, the teacher of the class. She portrayed Marjan’s struggles, both internally and with her students, with passion and warmth. Banafsheh Taherian plays Roya, the eldest student of the group. Roya’s story is certainly one of the more heartbreaking in the play and Taherian’s performance makes our hearts break for her (and I did call my Mom the morning after the show). Sepehr Reybod’s Omid is sweet and funny, his charm shining through this character. Omid’s betrayal of his class is a one-two-punch with Reybod delivers beautifully. Ghazal Azarbad’s Elham is feisty and fun, definitely the character we champion throughout the play. Azarbad is fantastic, she takes us on a full journey with Elham and we are all fully along for this ride! Aylin Oyan Salahshoor plays Goli, who I must admit was my favourite character. Salahshoor’s Goli oozes optimism and innocence, one cannot help but fall in love with her. Truly, this is an ensemble cast for the ages, and I hope that I’ll be seeing much more from all of these talented actors on stage soon.
I enjoyed how the playwright played with language, particularly in the final moments of the play. Throughout the rest of the play, what language the characters are speaking is derived from their vocabulary and accent. However, in the final moments Marjan and Elham speak in Farsi to one another, leaving non-Farsi members of the audience in the dark as to those final lines. I loved this; to be thrust from comfort and understanding into unknown territory is part of the immigrant experience these characters are trying to prepare themselves for. To experience it as an audience member is jarring and foreign and perfect. I was still smiling about it for quite some time after the house lights went up.
I cannot recommend this production highly enough. You will laugh, cry, and come away with a whole new appreciation for your language and how it defines you, no matter how many languages you speak. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/english
Photo by Dahlia Katz