Displacement, immigration and a sense of belonging characterise this play, Mimi’s Suitcase, from Ana Bayat in which she plays a dizzying array of characters in four different languages.
Mimi herself is fifteen, she only has her suitcase and scared. When her family return to 1980s Tehran from residency in Spain, in the way of the Shah’s overthrow by the Ayatollah Khomeini, she sees all the European freedoms she enjoyed being snatched away from her.
In this frightening place, Bayat is always on the move, a crowd of invisible supporting characters created around her. She treats the situations which arise with black humour. Projected images give the show a sense of place, whether an interrogation room, an airport, a crowded gate, or a teenager’s bedroom.
Mimi’s Suitcase is an accomplished piece, performed in English, French, Persian and Spanish. It raises questions about the subjection of women’s looks and behaviour (not wearing the hijab, for example, gives men cause for sexual excitement); and looks with envy at those who can wear what they want, listen to what they want, and meet who they want without questions being asked.
The jubilation of ‘freedom’ with the death of Iran’s dictator is momentary, but as Mimi constantly feels she has to look over her shoulder, and fear in the family leads them to destroy even a simple poster which might cause official censure, she knows she has to say goodbye (“too many goodbyes”), and become a “foreigner” again, elsewhere.
Mimi’s Suitcase is a piece of work which deftly balances moments of humour with the realisation that ‘home’ is not the place you can necessarily be yourself. It is a play which I found particularly informative while being entertaining and compassionate about a woman’s life in a restrictive regime. It feeels particularly relevant given the week’s events as the Taliban regain control in Afghanistan.
Fringe rating: ****
You can stream Mimi’s Suitcase on the Assembly Showcatcher platform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until the end of August: book your ticket here.