Powerful drama tells Nazanin’s story

Richard and Nazanin Ratcliffe pictured during happier times before her arrest in her native Iran. The couple are pictured with their young daughter, Gabriella.

LONG-LISTED for the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award, Nazanin’s Story — described as ‘political theatre at its best’ — tells the true and ongoing struggle Nazanin Ratcliffe and her family face after she and her baby daughter were taken by the Revolutionary Guards in Iran on the 3rd April 2016. The compelling production comes to the Stratford ArtsHouse on Saturday, 24th February, and will feature a question and answer session with Nazanin’s husband, Richard, who this week gives Herald arts an insight into his wife’s plight…

You’re coming to the ArtsHouse with Nazanin’s Story, can you tell us a bit about that, how the play came about, and how you have been involved?

“I met Emi Howells, the play’s director, at the outset and had an initial chat, but then no more contact until they were in rehearsals. The play is almost entirely based on material taken from the updates I put on our www.change.org petition, or a couple of interviews I gave, so I recognised all the words as Nazanin’s and mine when I saw it, but I didn’t steer the script. In rehearsals I offered some feedback — the lived experience of our story is a bit more unsteady than campaigning — so I wanted the actors to better understand what it felt like beyond the public statements. But I was really struck by how powerfully they told our story.”

How is it watching the drama for you?

It was really tough the first couple of times. Part of campaigning is selective forgetting, keeping hopeful by not dwelling too much on the worst times, but looking forward. So there were lots of things I had half forgotten, which were hard to see again. But the more I saw it, the more I saw different things; what came through was also the strength and resilience in Nazanin’s voice. Day to day I don’t always notice that, since she is up and down, and the times when she is down I remember most. But to see her as the year unfolds was to see her strength come through. So I really appreciate the play for showing me that. I wrote an update on the petition on the experience of watching the play.

What have been the audience reactions?

The audience brings something quite different each night I have seen it. I hadn’t realised until this play just what a big part the audience plays, normally I don’t watch the same play a number of times. But we’ve had nights where one person started crying and then almost everyone in the audience did, nights where we have had a number of people from Iran, who see the play in a very different way, see their own story, or the story of their country, and it has been interesting to see it in schools — students have often really engaged with our story, but also the wider themes.

You will be doing a Q&A in Stratford, what are the main questions people have been asking as you’ve toured, and what does it mean to you that people come along and see it?

It depends a bit on whether I do the Q&A before or after the play. The questions are more inquisitive if we do it before, about Nazanin’s story and how it happened. If after, people mostly ask how they can help. I told the cast the other day that I’ve done a lot of speeches over this past 21 months, with varying levels of impact, but I have never moved a room the way I have seen that play do.

Tell us about the kind of support you’ve been getting.  

I think the most important thing about the play, and the fact that people come to see it is the impact it has on Nazanin (and her fellow cellmates), knowing in her cell that there are people out there who are following her story, that she is not forgotten, not alone. That would also be true for me.

You had some clumsy publicity from Boris Johnson. Is it a worry that some of the publicity might have a detrimental effect on Nazanin’s plight, or is it important to keep her story in the headlines?

I don’t think campaigning is what keeps Nazanin in prison. The opposite, truth is on our side. I am sure sunlight will bring her home.

Is the UK government doing enough?

I have been pretty critical of the government at points, and still think they should be more robust. I have no complaints on a personal level, my experience of Foreign Office staff is that they are very decent people. But a mum and baby arrested on holiday and accused of being a spy and locked up on secret charges is simply nonsense. That should not have lasted 21 days, let alone 21 months.

How often are you in contact?

At the moment I get to speak to Nazanin twice a week.

You must be constantly thinking about Nazanin and Gabriella, how are you staying sane?

Not sure I always am sane. In truth, I find campaigning helps, it gives me hope, it gives her hope. And that keeps us both safe.

WHERE AND WHEN: The touring production of Nazanin’s Story comes to Stratford ArtsHouse on Saturday, 24th February, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10, £8 concessions from www.stratfordartshouse.co.uk or on 01789 207100.




WHERE AND WHEN: The touring production of Nazanin’s Story comes to Stratford ArtsHouse on Saturday, 24th February, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10, £8 concessions from www.stratfordartshouse.co.uk or on 01789 207100.

  • Kaitey_the witch

    Classic liberal propaganda.. this whole story is suspect..