Heart, written by Steven Gaythorpe is a cross-collaboration between Zendeh and the Ovalhouse. Zendeh’s artistic director and founder, Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh directs this political romance with such refined artistry and storytelling, a cross between a melodrama and a ballet.
Heart follows the life of Leili, an upper-class Iranian woman and a romantic soul living in Tehran during the 1950s. She falls in love with Kais, a young Syrian man, who works in the tearoom she patrons weekly. Kais and his father escaped Syria after being under threat for their communist leanings. Leili’s family soon gets wind of the young lovers’ weekly meetings and she is sent to Durham in England to finish off her studies. Kais is everything her family is not: communist, lower class, an artist and not Iranian. In Durham she meets Arthur, an academic who fits the portraiture of the ideal man. He is middle class, educated, and is ‘experienced’ – as Leili puts it.
Leili returns to Tehran wedded to Arthur, continuing her life of dinner parties, servants and French couture fashions. But, one evening while at an embassy dinner, she runs into Kais and their flame is reignited. Leili begins a dangerous love-triangle, all the while Iran’s political world is imploding within. Artfully woven into the romantic drama is the British involvement in the 28 Mordad Coup d’Etat of 1953. As the Iranian people move to democratise their nation, the United States and Great Britain aim to keep the Shah of Iran in power in order to maintain hold of the oil wealth.
Serena Manteghi, who plays Leili, brings her character to life with such range and sincerity. As Leili struggles with her two loves, she reveals that all in her life is not grandiose and golden. Leili admits that she has ‘not loved rightly,’ choosing the life her parents wanted, instead of the life she needed. She is a nightingale trapped in the confines of a gilded cage and she will pay the ultimate price for her choices.
Tarrick Benham (Kais) and Matt Jamie (Arthur) finish off the cast as the two lovers of Leili. Tarrick’s portrayal of Kais is graceful and heartfelt. Kais is a manic-depressive who is completely captivated by Leili; all of his poetry is centred on her beauty and their love. His foil is the conniving Arthur, who is given such perfect dichotomy by Matt Jamie. He seems the perfect English gentlemen living in the north of England, but soon it is revealed he has much more at stake in Iran than simply impressing his in-laws.
This production has qualities of great Shakespearean drama. By the play’s end the heroine is left isolated with no one to love, the nightingale is set free but only after paying a very heavy price.
Heart plays at the Ovalhouse until 7 June. For more information please see the Ovalhouse website.