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Not-for-profit theatre group Iran Saye Theatre is presenting an intriguing, though difficult to follow, experimental multimedia performance at this year’s Fringe. ★★★

Written by Gianluca I Noble

Hidden amid the dense financial district neighbouring Victoria Square, the Garage International hosts a diverse offering this year, including Iran Saye Theatre’s new work Traverse.

Created by company founder and director Mehdi Mashhour, Traverse opens with the performers, Mina Zaman and Sahar Saba, weaving a long rope adorned with colour between the audience members, binding us metaphorically together. They note that this is an eternal rope, which protects those within it from illness and death. Saba steps forward and tells us an ancient parable of a man in Bandar Ganaveh (in modern-day Iran) catching a gigantic, pungent fish, which, when eaten by a woman, gives her eternal life.

A remarkable theatrical moment occurs during this scene when Saba subtly checks her watch and notes that it is midday in Iran right now. We are then taken across continents by the internet as a livestream is projected of a ritual being performed in Ganaveh that relates to the myth. The performance in Adelaide is synchronised with the traditional procession in Iran, until the stream gets interrupted; perhaps by a glitch, or by deliberate interference.

As a non-for-profit group, Iran Saye Theatre plays a significant role in the global recognition of Iranian artists and does notable work such as translating texts on contemporary theatre into Persian. Their work on this production in Ganaveh has been previously interrupted by Iran’s Islamic religious police, and it is no doubt an impressive feat to co-ordinate performing artists across continents.

However, for audience members who don’t have knowledge of the specific practices demonstrated in Traverse, and without a show program, the mythical framing device is difficult to follow. The storyline doesn’t seem to follow the narrative described in the Adelaide Fringe guide, and doesn’t explicitly (as indicated in the guide) feature Mt Fuji, though the lonely immortal character does travel to the infamous Aokigahara Forest in the final scene.

Traverse also appeared to struggle with technical issues on this particular night. Soundscape design is evocative, but audio levels were imprecise and frequently drowned out the performers. The cross-continental logistics saw the occasional visible web browser projected on the back wall, which unfortunately distracted from the storytelling. And much of the time performers were shrouded in a dim blue light, which made it difficult to appreciate their performance, and especially an inventive section where aspects of their costumes become puppets.

Iran Saye Theatre offers an essential international voice for Iranian artists, and hopefully will continue to provide its unique experimental theatre to audiences in Adelaide. However, this show – while intriguing – still feels like a work-in-progress that would benefit from further development

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