Cinema (4 stars)

This article is from 2015


credit: Matt Jamie

Theatre ZENDEH present a taught and moving hybrid of the political and the personal

In 1978, Iran is torn between the Shah Pahlavi and the revolutionary Grand Ayatollah. At the Cinema Rex in Abadan (once known as the city of cinephiles), a packed house watches Masoud Kimiai’s Gavaznha (The Deers). That night the Cinema Rex was consumed by a terrible act of arson that claimed the lives of 422 people.

A mere sliver of charred cinema screen remains, with the seats sitting empty, and Scheherazade, a local cat, is the only one left here to tell what transpired.

With Scheherazade’s current owner, Minou, having been among those seeking temporary escapism basking in the celluloid’s glow, she is left to wander the streets: her mournful mewling of pop songs from the Bee Gees to ABBA acquiring a new found poignancy amid her attempts to understand such a terrible act of violence.

Scheherazade the cat, like her namesake, the storyteller of The One Thousand and One Nights, finds herself bargaining with death to let her live on for the few simple pleasures and so that someone may keep alive the memory of those who lost their lives in the Cinema Rex that night.

Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh’s subtle and affecting performance wheels easily between a wondrous disbelief at the cruelty of events and a homespun glee at the simple pleasure of an overflowing saucer or the warmth of a cushion up in the projection booth. The course of Scheherazade's nine lives has taken her across the turmoil of a nation in revolution and Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh’s performance crackles with tenderness as she recounts each of her lives snuffed out amid the bustle and noise of an Iran torn between eastern and western identity.

Stephen Gaythorpe’s text inter-cuts taut passages that give a wider picture, with vivid stories of the individuals who sought excitement and intimacy within the flickering light of the cinema Rex. An effective piece of political theatre, Cinema relishes the allegorical wisdom of its feline storyteller and manages to explore the implicit and explicit political dimensions of its powerful story.

ZENDEH's understated production rings with warmth and humanity. It unites the political and the personal through the unlikely eyes of a cat whose own attempts at survival are thwarted by a violent schism that will come to define the modern western perception of Iran.

Northern Stage at Summerhall, 560 1581, until 30 Aug (not 26), 10.45pm, £10 (£8).


  • 4 stars

ZENDEH August 1978. Cinema Rex fire, Abadan, Iran. Four-hundred and twenty-two dead. The year of Superman, Saturday Night Fever, and an act of terror that sparked a revolution. Who will remember the dead? Shahrzad – feral cat, teller of tales – pleads with Death for one more life. To have another saucer of milk. To tell…