> Peyvand Sadeghian talks about play 'Dual هناگود', not being 'automatically British', and the complexities of Persian / Iranian identity (Edinburgh Fringe 2023) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Peyvand Sadeghian talks about play ‘Dual هناگود’, not being ‘automatically British’, and the complexities of Persian / Iranian identity (Edinburgh Fringe 2023)

Peyvand Sadeghian was the kind of child that didn’t talk, so her parents put her into drama classes to remedy this – and remedy this they did! Since then, she has been part of community projects, was selected for the National Youth Theatre, acted on screen (including the recent Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story on Netflix), and developed beyond acting into puppetry, animation, writing, and more. Her Fringe show Dual هناگود (Dual do-ga-neh) explores herself and her parallel possible life had she grown up in Iran, through images, sound, and solo performance.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

When you’re performing in something you’ve created, what do you miss about performing a part someone else has written, and vice versa?

People sometimes say to me: ‘Oh, is that what you want to do now?’ Which always really frustrates me. There’s very rarely one person that does one thing; I like doing both. With acting, it’s great not to have any responsibility and good to have your clear role.

I really enjoy being able to focus my energies on this character. But, particularly with screen work, as an actor, you are one of the earlier parts of the factory line. Making my own work is great in that it’s really fun to be able to bring in other creatives and see what they come up with based on what you’ve given them as a starting point.

The team behind this show are not an official company, but we have been collaborating since we first worked together in 2020. It feels like we are a creative family, and as well as this show, there’s been different configurations of us working together on other things. I still want to keep my fingers in all the pies.

How did your show Dual هناگود come to be and how has it grown since its inception?

That moment in my life where I got stuck in Iran at age 10 has been something that’s really formed me throughout the rest of my life. In hindsight, I was traumatised from quite a lot of it – still am in some ways. In that sense, it’s always been present in terms of my political interests and having that macro worldview. I think what spurred me to initially start making a show from that experience was around the time of the [Brexit] Referendum result.

I had a lot of white British people saying to me: ‘You’re so lucky that you’ve got another passport’. Why? It felt really trivial, and the only reason they seemed to give for wanting another passport is for cheap holidays. That annoyance spurred me to have a look at what passports are and what their value is, because they’re not all worth the same.

It branched out into a wider thing around democracy and protests in both countries. Little did I know how much was going to happen in the next three years, after doing it first in 2020. I was already planning to tour this year before the events last September happened in Iran. It focused everything even more in terms of the Woman Life Freedom movement, not just in terms of the show’s content, but also I’m not the only Iranian national involved. Plus, the UK’s got this new Public Order Bill. I needed to go back and rewrite a few things to acknowledge that this is happening here as well. These things have become even more urgent.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

‘The child of an immigrant and refugee, Londonborn & bred, yet not born British, Peyvand sits at an intersection between colonised and coloniser.’ Can you expand on this?

It always really surprises people that you’re not automatically British, just because you’re born in the UK. Because my dad hadn’t actually naturalised as British by the time I was born – I think he had the right to remain at that point – I inherited refugee status. Growing up I thought I was just born British, and it wasn’t until I had to compile all my documents to apply for my own passport when I was about 18 that I realised I was classed as a refugee. There were letters confirming my refugee status and then my settled status – I’d never thought of myself as a refugee. That still isn’t a narrative I would necessarily claim as I haven’t fled from anywhere.

I grew up speaking English; I am from London. It shocks me that many people don’t understand the implications that that has, especially with Windrush and Yarl’s Wood, and you hear stories of people that thought they were British and they suddenly find themselves at risk from deportation because of technicalities in the past.

How have your father’s experiences influenced you and this show?

East London is not where most of the British Iranians were in London. At school, there were Kurdish, Turkish, and lots of Afghans as well, but there weren’t really any Iranians that I can remember. So my only knowledge [of Iranian culture] growing up was through my dad, from things like marking the New Year and different sorts of seasonal festivals to his version of history, experiencing what I experienced in Iran as a kid, and trying to match those together. And now as an adult having access to other information myself, meeting people within the Iranian diaspora, and piecing it together. That realisation of how much a parent chooses to tell you or not, and the reasons why that might be. I asked him to tell me more, now I’m an adult.

It’s also the realisation of someone that is othered from the country they were born in. He doesn’t recognise Iran now. He left a long time ago, and ended up living in the UK longer than he had in Iran. Making the show, it made me understand him more and be less angry about certain things. He was 17 when he came to the UK. You realise how vulnerable someone is, how traumatic that must have been, cut off from your whole family. He was by himself, and he couldn’t speak English. He’s tried to make things work in the UK, and yet will always be seen as a foreigner.

There was a time growing up when you’d say ‘Persian’, rather than ‘Iranian’, because Iran has such negative connotations to it. I think it’s only quite recently, particularly amongst the younger diaspora, that they’re reclaiming Iran. My dad always said privately that Iran is the real name, it’s just that other people don’t like it. It’s really complex and knotty.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

What do you want the audience to bring with them to the show and what will they leave with?

I would like people to bring themselves in terms of their nationalities and the citizenships that they genuinely hold, and be willing to place themselves within the world of the show and acknowledge either the privilege (or not) that they have. It’s really important to not watch this as a thing that happens to them over there. Hopefully, they’ll take away a sense of solidarity and connections to things they care about and how that connects to a wider network of struggle and realising that, essentially, most progressive causes are arguing for the same thing, and you have to work together.

Dual هناگود is at Pleasance Dome 17th till 21st & 23rd till 28th August. Tickets here.

Ramalama Ding Dong from Roshi Nasehi (who is part of the creative team behind Dual هناگود ) at Summerhall 2nd till 13th August. Tickets here.

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