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‘English’ – Gentle play with fine performances really hits the mark…

‘English’ – Gentle play with fine performances really hits the mark…

How is English perceived by those who study it abroad? US Pulitzer award-winning play by new talent explores this in all facets and now comes to London…

By Suman Bhuchar

SET IN A CLASSROOM in Karaj, Iran – ‘English’ ostensibly is a show about learning English – written by the Iranian American playwright Sanaz Toossi, the play won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Drama as well as the OBIE award for Best New American Play – however, it really explores how language can change the way you express certain emotions and also change the way you view yourself.

Directed by Diyan Zora with a set and costume design by Anisha Fields, it takes place in a classroom with fans whirring overhead and has three female and one male student present.

Marjan, the teacher (Nadia Albina), a committed Anglophile, enters and writes on a chalkboard TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and to emphasise her point to the students underlines the words, English Only.

Marjan (Nadia Albina) ©RSC/Richard Davenport

The students meet regularly, so the play is divided in weekly segments, where the audience is gradually introduced to the students, their hopes, and raison d’etre for learning a new language and their interactions with each other.

Goli (Sara Hazemi), an 18 year old, wants to pass the test to go to America; Roya, (Lanna Joffrey) is learning English so she can talk to her granddaughter Claire who lives abroad; Elham (Serena Manteghi) wants to pass an exam to be a teaching assistant in Australia.

It evolves gently and through humour and over the weeks delves deeper into the reasons why the students continue to learn through a variety of teaching methods, such as show and tell, role play, games and listening to western songs.

Marjan has a soft spot for British romantic comedies and Hugh Grant and she starts watching this with the only male student Omid (Nojan Khazai), whose motives for studying are unclear and there is an understated suggestion of something more developing between the couple.

In the show, the characters speak mostly English but you understand when they are speaking Farsi.

Although, the show is funny, as the students struggle to master the idiom and grammar of the English language, it never pokes fun at their expense.

The bigger question is really that whilst learning a new language and giving up your mother tongue, do you lose something in order to gain something?

Can you truly express your emotional self in another language?

A gentle play and fine performances make it a drama that should should be seen by English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers…. definitely.
ACV rating: ***** (out of five)

Main picture: Elham (Serena Manteghi); Omid (Nojan Khazai), Roya (Lana Jaffrey), Goli (Sara Hazemi) ©RSC/Richard Davenport

The show is Royal Shakespeare Company production and was originally at The Other Place, Stratford Upon Avon, and is now currently at the Kiln Theatre, London the until July 6 see below…

English by Sanaz Toossi at The Kiln (June 12) to July 6, 269 Kiln High Road, Kilburn NW6 7JR
Phone: 020 7328 1000
More info/tickets:

1 hour and 30 minutes, no interval.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture