A Fire Engine in My Room: Theatre of the absurd comes to Qurum

We all know that Muscat rejoices in its diversity and multiculturalism, but few might imagine that a Persian Playwright in our midst would write, produce, direct and perform in a Theatre of the Absurd production right here. Inspired by the French-Romanian Eugène Ionesco’s 1950 play, “The Bald Soprano”, local thespian and innovator, Nasser Mardani, decided to create his own drama set in the surreal surroundings of the Ras al Hamra Camp.
Fire is absolutely central to ancient Persian culture and legends, and so it was fitting that Nasser’s imagination ran wild with the bizarre concept of a wife who desired nothing more than her own Fire Engine, while the husband thought an indoor swimming pool would tick all the boxes. From this domestic situation, unusual in itself, a drama involving the whole neighbourhood grew into a fully fledged piece of theatre in two short acts.
Nasser Mardani has a gift for seeing the irony in the banal or commonplace and the potential of farce from the mundane. The use of mobile phones and Facebook in contemporary homes, ‘as personal as one’s underwear’ has not escaped his notice.
The play opened with Javeed, performed rotundly by New Zealander, Crispin Garden-Webster, lazing languidly on the couch looking at his phone while his frustrated, jealous and suspicious wife Sara, performed perfectly by the impeccably English Denise Sanders, was trying to get her husband’s attention. She wants a fire engine; a Red Fire Engine in the sitting room as a piece of decorative furniture with a function. Javeed’s idea for an inflatable garden pool installed right in the middle of the living room would certainly double as a fire extinguisher but just might bring a few of its own problems in the form of floods and electrical short circuits — especially considering the displacement issue of such an elephantine body. There was a delightful inclusion of Jalaal Zolfonoun’s song, ‘Fire in Reed Bed’, (Yek shab atashi Dar neyestaani fotad), which is a famous Persian poem about fire being a cleansing force on the empty clutter of our lives so that the true meaning and purpose can shine through. Sung by Shahram Näzeri in Farsi it was shadowed commendably by Denise as Sara in the House.
Mr Shahgoli, a close family friend, entered the melange to side with Sara in the form of veteran drama queen and now portly, Rosie Reddy. In an effort to shift a very heavy table to make space for the vehicle of the title, Mr Shahgoli put his back out and ended up writhing on the floor in agony while phone calls above his head informed of a topical tennis match at the Club(!) and a celebratory party, despite the evident need for an ambulance and medical attention.
Act Two introduced the friends and neighbours in this multi-ethnic suburb, such as Iranian first-time actors, Mahsa Sharifi as Lola the Doctor and host, Narjes Khatoun as Mr Shahgoli’s wife, the gossipy Margaret and Fatemeh Rahimpour as an excitable ‘Rihanna’, with Rosie Reddy now incarnated as ‘Shakira’, at a party to which everyone would have loved to be invited. Conceived in Farsi, Nasser Mardani had help from Shahrokh Rahmani with the translation who had his minutes of fame at the end as a Fireman. Gauri Jyoti, of Pantomime fame, made a splendid and clearly spoken appearance as Hanna at the party, along with Amir Hossein Maziny as ‘Marcel’ and Mahmood Hababnia as ‘Jimmy’. Even the characters’ names were a delicious blend of Persian and American Idol and deserved psychoanalysis in themselves. Such a Tower of Babel cast alone would have led to some pretty mixed-up conversations, but here the dialogue veered towards existential discussions on the meaning of life, the tennis score, Javeed and Sara’s dilemma, candles and Nasser finally silenced by his own creations as he tried to get a word in edgeways. So how did it end? They were all killed in a self- inflicted fire through a dream-like sequence to underline the insignificance of the human existence and their empty, shallow lives.
Above in the box at Cinema Hall was the experienced Dutch Light and Sound Engineer, Rini Klaassen, while Ana-Marta Dixson kept things running smoothly backstage.
After a second interval, Mardani returned to the stage for a short stand-up comedy routine where his acute perception of how people behave and speak in a mixed community was thrown into hilarious relief. Watch out for his next performance because a new career just could be evolving.