Art & Events Interview Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Peyvand Sadeghian: DUAL دوگانه

By | Published on Friday 15 September 2023

If you were at the Edinburgh Festival this summer, you may well have seen – or heard about – Peyvand Sadeghian’s acclaimed show ‘DUAL دوگانه’.

And to be fair, you might also have seen – or heard about – it when it was one of Vault Festival’s Shows Of The Week back in 2020. 

Sadeghian, a creator who works both on stage and on screen – recently in ‘Queen Charlotte’ on Netflix – is both British and Iranian, and the show’s jumping off point is her own experiences of that dual citizenship. 

I spoke to Peyvand to find out more about her and the show. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about the content of ‘DUAL’ – what story does it tell?
PS: It dives into the complexity of navigating being a dual UK-Iran citizen, but it’s not just a one-way narrative about me; the show’s an evolving conversation between myself and the audience.

There’s a rich mix of media, from glove puppets and animation to archival material, and even a dash of Barbara Streisand.

While it starts with my own experience, it opens up to question how we all navigate the officialdom of identities and responsibilities in the broader context of social and political landscapes.

So, it’s both a personal tale and a communal exploration. 

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
PS: In ‘DUAL دوگانه’, we’re tackling themes like identity, citizenship and activism. The show explores the tricky terrain of being a dual citizen of the UK and Iran, and it questions the power and privilege that come with our passports.

It also asks the audience to think about their role in making society better. It’s a play that aims to get you thinking and talking, mixing personal stories with big, global issues.

CM: To what extent does the play directly reflect your own experiences?
PS: The play is deeply rooted in my own experiences as a dual citizen of the UK and Iran, but it’s not a straightforward autobiography and I’m not interested in audiences feeling sorry for me getting stuck in Iran as a child. I made it home!

But I am still left navigating rules that change depending on the geopolitical tide. It uses my personal story as a jumping-off point to explore broader themes around nationality and activism.

The form is fragmented and uses different artistic elements from movement to drag, so whilst it’s not the most naturalistic reflection of my experiences, it is an expressive depiction of it. 

CM: What made you want to tackle these themes and this subject via the medium of a solo show?
PS: Initially, the solo format allowed me the intimacy and vulnerability needed to delve into these subjects that have directly impacted my life.

But, my background is steeped in ensemble and collaborative work. After the initial solo development phase at Camden People’s Theatre’s Starting Blocks programme, I was ready to open it up to other creatives bringing in multiple perspectives, adding depth and complexity to the narrative.

As a solo show, and an autobiographical one at that, I can never be outside of it, and so the addition of different perspectives and dialogue is really essential. 

CM: Tell us more about the creative process behind the piece.
PS: At the start of its development I worked alone. I found myself writing, recording voice notes in conversations with myself, devising, filming and then watching or listening back to assess what worked and what needed refining. I had to learn how to critique my own work without tearing myself apart.

Once the project expanded beyond just me conversations spiralled into ideas, affecting every facet of the production, from design to direction.

I would bring in new material – sometimes devised, sometimes written – which would inspire our sound designer or provoke thoughtful questions from our director. This back-and-forth became an organic, iterative process where each element informed the others.

Even with a team, there are moments when I retreat to process things alone. For a project as personal and complex as this, it’s crucial to maintain a sense of the core intentions. I need that space to ensure that the production stays true to its initial spark, even as it evolves.

CM: You recently had a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. How did that go? Would you go back?
PS: Would I go back to the Edinburgh Fringe? The honest answer right now is a resounding “no”, though who knows how time might soften that stance?

My stint at the Fringe was paradoxical; on the upside, it opened doors to some vital dialogues and allowed me to connect with niche audiences, including the Iranian diaspora, which was rewarding.

I was fortunate to secure some funding from the ‘Keep It Fringe’ fund and received support from Pleasance and generous crowdfunding backers, which even made it possible for me to be there.

However, these support systems didn’t negate the fact that I was still critically under-resourced. The experience was a real eye-opener into the social and financial disparities within the industry.

It’s a festival that amplifies existing issues around social class, accessibility, and the tension between commercial appeal and creative risk.

So, while I had some poignant moments of connection, the experience as a whole was gruelling. I’d need to seriously reassess the pros and cons before even thinking of making a return.

CM: Can we talk about you and your career, now? What made you decide to pursue a job in the arts, and what steps did you take to make it happen?
PS: I stumbled into the arts because, as a child, I was so shy I hardly spoke; ironically, now I can’t stop talking! Arts activities gave me a framework that eased my social anxieties.

The wealth of free community projects and school programmes that I had access to played a critical role in my formative years. It was actually my teachers who nudged me towards the National Youth Theatre and that’s when I realised the arts could be more than a hobby – it could be a livelihood.

I thought drama school was the next logical step, but upon visiting, I felt like a misfit. My appearance and background were far from the norm there, so I opted for Goldsmiths, which celebrated the kind of experimental and critical thinking that I thrive on.

However, what Goldsmiths didn’t offer was a guide to navigating the practicalities of an arts career – everything from taxes to funding was a learn-on-the-job experience.

I’ve never had a safety net or pre-made industry connections. My strategy has been more about finding my “tribe”- people who share my interests and ethos – rather than strategically networking with people who could give my career a quick boost.

It’s been a long game, but I’ve been fuelled by my genuine interests and a desire for a career that reflects my values.

CM: I know you work on screen projects as well as on stage – do you prefer one to the other? How do they compare?
PS: The question of preference between stage and screen comes up a lot, and honestly, I don’t have a preference because they’re just not comparable. Each offers a different creative experience and serves a different role in the storytelling process.

In theatre, as a performer, you are essentially the ‘final product’ that the audience interacts with. Everything happens in real-time, and there’s a direct, visceral connection with the audience that’s utterly unique to live performance.

On the other hand, when you’re working on screen, you’re more like a piece in a larger puzzle. What you do as an actor serves as raw material that others – like editors and directors – will shape into the final product. They’re just different things and I enjoy them both in different ways.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of your working life so far?
PS: The highlights of my working life have been incredibly varied, which is one of the things I love about this job.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel globally for my work, from Cape Town to Portsmouth. That’s a highlight for me because I’m naturally curious and enjoy immersing myself in local cultures wherever I go.

Earlier this year, I had a “red carpet” experience with the premiere of ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’, which felt almost surreal but was incredibly exhilarating.

Last year, I had a writing commission to create a monologue for ‘Terrifying Women’. What made it special was that it was the first time that I’ve handed my writing over to another director and performer.

Seeing them interpret and bring to life something I had created, and the surprise of that experience, was incredibly rewarding.

So the highlights aren’t always the most glamorous moments; sometimes they’re the unexpected ones that offer a new perspective or a different way of working.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
PS: I want to continue doing the kind of work I’m passionate about. I have some ideas that have been percolating in the background and I’m eager to bring them to fruition.

More importantly, I want to be appropriately supported in these endeavours – financially, emotionally, and creatively. The long-term goal is to sustain a career that aligns with my ethics and allows me to continually challenge myself, both as an artist and as an individual.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
PS: The entire industry at the moment has been hit hard so opportunities all round are scarcer than they have been for a while. So if anyone is reading this – give me a bell, yeah?

‘DUAL دوگانه’  is on at Camden People’s Theatre from 19-23 Sep, see the venue website here for more info and tickets.  It will also be on at HOME in Manchester from 4-5 Oct.  

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Photo: Ali Wright