Fereshteh Mozaffari is the founder of of Sheba Arts and has lived in two different countries, Iran and the UK. Bring Me the Mountain is her new work in progress, which delves into the devastating impact that being a refugee can have on mental health. Although it firmly states in the programme that this is not autobiographical, Mozaffari brings her experiences into a fictional character, Oraman, who flees a war zone, coming to the UK with hopes of piecing her life back together.
Oraman’s fragmented mental health is effectively mirrored in the play’s structure. As she suffers flashbacks of war and memory loss, the narrative switches between the past and present, causing confusion amongst the audience, and for the protagonist. Consulting the doctor about her health, Oraman is subject to a crude interrogation with absurd questions for someone who is clearly distressed, an interrogation by a British doctor that almost shames the patient into believing that they are at fault for their condition.
“Why should I speak the truth when you don’t believe me?”
Mozaffari deftly turns Oraman’s mental collapse into a traditional piece of dance, Sufi whirling to the rhythm of a Daf. This Whirling Dervish dance isn’t peaceful though, in fact it is difficult to watch, as she physically struggles, her arms reaching out for support. This inner conflict eventually turns into a meditative trance, and she discovers her centre of gravity, finding inner peace and tranquillity. It is a remarkable piece of physical theatre that profoundly translates the character’s mind transforming from fragmentation into wholeness.
It came as a surprise to me in the show’s Q&A session that Fereshteh Mozaffari is relatively inexperienced as an actor. Although creativity has always been an outlet, this is usually in writing poetry and plays, and she rarely actually performs. It is a testament to the director, Szilvi Naray-Davey, that she manages to get the most out of Mozaffari as an actor. To be able to portray such emotional torment throughout the performance deserves the utmost credit. It mustn’t be easy to relive those experiences.
Sophie Tyrell‘s stage design remarkably adds a surrealist setting for what is a piece rooted in emotional realism, creating an effective juxtaposition. A vast sheet of paper covers the floor, transcending into the air at the rear of the stage. In a significantly symbolic moment, the white paper is torn to shreds by Oraman, a bold statement of resilience and freedom, and an explosive release of energy.
By elevating the paper, Tyrell’s design forms a screen for Kooj Chuhan‘s visual elements to be projected onto. Surreal mouths break through the paper, taunting Oraman within her conscience, or visually providing a mouth for the doctor and policemen who interrogate the character. Faceless, these machinations are deeply disturbing, show the autonomy and bureaucracy of the state.
As a work in progress, Bring Me The Mountain is an accomplished piece of theatre and provides a strong foundation, with only small improvements required. There is a video which feels out of place in a piece that focuses on inner conflict. It would be more effective being performed on stage, rather than filmed outdoors.
I also feel like there can be more variety in mood, as it purposefully feels quite sombre. There are comical moments in the play that provide uplifting moments of humour, such as Oraman’s druggie neighbour who steals from charity shops, but these are only touched upon, and it would be nice to see them expanded.
Nonetheless, this is a piece that is as effective in its storytelling as it is in its design. An interesting clash between interior mental health and surrealist design, Bring Me The Mountain has plenty of potential. It also shows what a gifted writer and performer Fereshteh Mozaffari is.