Haram Iran is possibly the most current play on the London scene right now. Set in modern day Iran it follows the story of two 15-year-old boys who are convicted under Sharia law for the crime of being gay.

This play, based on true events, shows the harrowing dark side of extreme Sharia law that exists in many areas of of the world today. It is an incredibly intelligent and well-written play by Jay Paul Deratany, an American lawyer and gay man of Arab descent. It is a detailed, beautiful work and it is hard not to be overcome with emotion by many of the topics and discussions touched upon in this new piece of writing.

Ayaz, our main protagonist, is played by Viraj Juneja. Ayaz has learned to read English through the few classic Western novels that his mother, played by Silvana Maimone, has obtained illegally. Reading in English is Haram (against Allah). Ayaz’s mother is a well-educated Iranian woman. She began her education when Iran was still a developed and westernised country, before the revolution began. She battles internally throughout with her place in this new Iran, where she is not even a viable witness in court because she is a woman and her place at home is belonging to her husband. She raises her son to be inquisitive, educated and more open-minded than is possibly wise in the culture that they live in. This leads to devastating consequences for the whole family, leaving us with a deeper understanding about the safety and necessity to conform in such a world.

The cast deliver heart-wrenching and beautiful performances. There is so much love in this piece that even the harrowing events that are displayed to us on stage cannot outweigh the significance of the importance of love. Viraj Juneja is wonderful: he is tender and passionate with a hope and excitement to make us believe only good can come at the end of this distressing piece. Andrei Costin plays his fellow youth and love. He is another actor who shows delicacy and truth in his work and their chemistry is captivating. Silvana Maimone plays Mrs Marhouni, Ayaz’s mother. Maimone is enchanting in this role and the relationship created between herself and Juneja had many of us weeping into our sleeves.

This is essential theatre and a topic that should never be shied away from. It questions the morality of a culture that suppresses women’s rights and actively punishes and targets men for even possibly being gay. This particular play exposes what can happen when a town hunt and persecute gay men, and the corruption involved in bringing them to ‘justice’. Every character Deratany has created is real and believable, and the facts presented to us through recorded clips of interviews with public figures in Iran are well-chosen and poignant. It is simply an excellent play.

This is brave work by an incredibly talented group of people. But my praise, where often it doesn’t go enough, goes so heavily with Deratany for giving us a powerful and enlightening piece of theatre that makes us question and think a little outside our own comfortable world and culture. It is a beautiful love story told in a most unique and captivating setting. Current and questioning, I hope it is sold out every night before getting a transfer to a larger theatre because in my opinion this is exactly what theatre should be.

Haram Iran is playing at the Above the Stag Theatre until 1 May. For more information and tickets, see the Above The Stage Theatre website. Photo: Gaz.photography