Theatre Review: English

Theatre Review: English

Are you still the same person when speaking in a foreign language?

This and many other questions of identity and authenticity are explored in the Pulitzer Prize winning play ENGLISH by Sanaz Toossi. I saw this production on its first run at the Other Place (RSC) in Stratford. It will transfer to Kiln Theatre from 5 to 29 June.

All of the action of the play is concentrated over a six week period in an English Language classroom and follows four students; Goli, Roya, Omid and Elham and their interactions with their teacher, Marjan.

I thought this was a deceptively clever, simple  and very powerful premise to explore identity, authenticity and vulnerability through the medium of language. Do you craft a new image of yourself when you speak a different language? Can you coexist or does the authentic part of yourself disappear? What of your name, do you change it to fit in so that foreigners can feel at ease despite your own discomfort? I found the storylines of Roya and Elham resonated with me more, their motivations for learning languages and their very clear self awareness that a foreign language is just a tool but will never be their identity. Having spent 4.5 years in Paris, I always knew speaking French was just a way in which to make myself understood.

As an audience you need to atune your ear to the changes in register, when the characters are speaking Iranian they speak with a clear English accent whereas when they are trying to speak “English” it is with a very heavy Iranian accent. It works provided you pay attention.

It’s 90 minutes without an interval. This play is definitely a conversation starter. The reason we go to theatre to be able to discuss what we’ve seen. My friend plays Roya but I bought my ticket and, friend or no friend I am going to be honest. I enjoyed this thought provoking piece of theatre. Diversity matters, and how we approach language and what that means in terms of identity is incredible for how we understand the community we live in.

ENGLISH at Kiln Theatre, ticket info here.

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