Total Theatre Reviews Summer 2010 30 Bird Productions/Escalator East to Edinburgh Poland 3 Iran 2 Pleasance at Thistle Street Bar | Edinburgh Festival Fringe 4 August 2010 Dorothy Max Prior
Who’d have thought that a show about football would win my heart? Of course the secret is that this show is about far more than football – it is a beautiful exploration of boyhood, of family eccentricities, of migration, of political resistance, and of a father-son relationship as experienced by two men, one of Polish heritage (visual artist Chris Dobrowolski) and one Iranian (30Bird’s director, Mehrdad Seyf). And lest that sounds a little earnest, let me immediately say that this show is a feast of razor-sharp observations and bizarre confessions that extend beyond the immediate subject matter to grasp at universal truths – the carefully-crafted revelations contained in the details of everyday life expose a wealth of personal histories and monumental historic occurrences.
A lovely moment is when Chris shows us his holiday snaps – taken on the occasion of his father’s first return to Poland in summer 1980, after many decades in the UK. They reveal a family standing sheepishly in front of a tourist attraction in Gdansk, completely oblivious to the fact that the town was making world news headlines as Lech Wałęsa led off a Solidarity movement demo just a few streets away. Meanwhile, Seyf’s family’s life in Tehran is going into freefall as the revolution picks up strength…
The show takes the form of a performative lecture set in a (real) pub, the two men eagerly swapping the remote control to take charge of the Powerpoint. Delights include an onsite ‘toilet in a shed’ kitted out with a model train track; in-depth on-screen analysis of Subbuteo accessories through the ages; and some wonderfully distressed film footage of the legendary Poland-Iran football match that is the uniting moment for our two heroes.
Premiered at Pulse Festival in Ipswich (in June, during the World Cup!), Poland 3 Iran 2 is here seen set in an Edinburgh pub for its Fringe run. Book now, this little gem of a show is set to steal the match.
Brighton Fringe 2011 Venue: Grand Central Bar – Nightingale Theatre Charlie Hughes-D'Aeth Fringe Review
The 'Dark Horse' Belfast. Photo: Agnieszka Sural
United by the 1976 football match between their home countries, Seyf and Dobrowolski discuss Subbuteo, girlfriends, swimming, and father-son relationships. Armed with a PowerPoint, embarrassing family photographs and footage of the game they embark on an exploration of political resistance, family eccentricities, and boyhood. Grab a pint, sit back and enjoy.
It’s hard to know where to start in explaining this delightful piece of performance. It’s not clearly theatre – and indeed one of the highly entertaining double act goes to some lengths to explain that he’s an artist, not an actor . It’s not a lecture – although there are slides and I feel as though I’ve learnt a huge amount about Polish history, Iranian politics and 1970’s football by the end of it. It’s a little like going to the pub with a couple of very well chosen friends of friends and so the Grand Central Bar at The Nightingale is a perfect venue. There’s a very informal opening to the ‘show’. To our left as we enter is a ramshackle contraption called ‘Siberia’, the inspiration for which being a 1970’s Polish lavatory and we are invited, one by one, to sit in this wooden box with a curtain. As you sit down, you see that inside the pan below is a wind up gramophone that powers a small train. This revolves so that as you stick your head through a similar inverted hole above, your eyes are level with a panoramic 360ᵒ vista with the train travelling round and round. This gives a wonderful illusion of expanse and neatly sets up the breadth of scope that the unfolding hour is going to cover. The two tour guides – because in the end I think that’s the best way to describe them, take turns to tell their story. Both are dressed in their respective country’s national football shirt and the hub of the performance is the 1976 Montreal Olympics match between Poland and Iran. YouTube footage of this is shown at intervals through a narrative that reveals the two men’s relationship with this match. Seyf’s family are shown in pictures with some of the players, Dobrowolski’s main connection was his sticker collection. The 70’s was a bleak period for English football and the team qualified for neither the ’74 nor ’78 World Cups. So sticker books only gave space for 4 England stickers under the heading ‘Excluded Teams’. Poland on the other hand were far more successful, so to feed the young lad’s collecting addiction, he had to make the most of having a Polish father and for the first time in his life, get in touch with his ethnic roots. I’m somehow grateful to Bobby Charlton’s team for their poor performance at this time as otherwise this tale would have had no reason to take place.
The audience were invited to sit in the 'Siberia' sculpture before the show starts. Photo: Fred Pipes
I had wondered whether the play would be purely the vehicle for a boysy rant explaining the minutiae from a ‘we was robbed’ perspective. Instead it was a wonderfully inclusive quirky celebration of family and international relationships, and how actions both major – exile to Siberia, Iranian revolutions – and minor – learning chess, collecting train sets – set off chains of events that lead us to where we are and what we do in the present. ‘Poland 3 Iran 2’ is a colourful mixture of the profound and the mundane all regaled in an engaging, self deprecating style. History would be a thriving subject, with kids clamouring to get in, if lessons were delivered with such skill (and with such beautifully designed visual aids) as these two raconteurs display. And I would highly recommend this piece as one of those lovely festival activities where history and entertainment meld seamlessly together.
Poland play Iran in the 1976 Montreal olympics
Poland 3 Iran 2 British Theatre guide Mehrdad Seyf and Chris Dobrowolski 30 Bird Productions Toynbee Studios (2011) Reviewer:Tobias Chapple Photo albums are usually objects of dread, trawled out, slapped down and inescapable once opened so Poland 3 Iran 2 is a nice change from this polite form of torture; while at its barest a series of photos on a projector screen with anecdotes attached, it is is warm, funny and genuinely interesting.
The night is based around the slightly surreal real lives of Chris and Mehrdad. There's some football, some politics, but mostly it's about their family history and their childhood stories.
Chris Dobrowolski's dad was a Pole who made it through the Second World War with a gramophone and Mehrdad Seyf's Iranian mother was a communist who was supposed to be throwing tomatoes at cinema screens but actually was interested in striking Hollywood-esque poses.
What makes Poland 3 Iran 2 work is that, while there probably are some fictional moments in here (although it is difficult to pick out which exactly), the tone is very genuine and the photos are real.
This fits snugly into the setting, a low key bar with no stage, as this is essentially two people sharing their stories, giving the audience a guided tour of their interesting and idiosyncratic lives so that it feels more like an extended series of very entertaining pub stories than a piece of theatre.
What's more difficult is that we jerkingly move from the Second World War to the recent Iranian elections, with only some faint football references to tie both points together. The titular football match between Poland and Iran is in here somewhere, but it's buried away and, ultimately, not too important.
The 'Dark Horse' Belfast. Photo: Agnieszka Sural
The mishmash throughout the night of somewhat intellectual points and light emotions goes well with this production's down to earth feel and there are a number of great moments. Whether it's going over the slightly racist errors in a football sticker album or Iran's Art Council, both Dobrowolski and Mehrad are engaging and fun. It's clear that Seyf, confident and relaxed, is the more seasoned performer of the two while Dobrowolski was nervous and occasionally stuttering, but in a charming way.
At the end you do feel as if you know these two people and you'll want to take them out for a drink to hear more of their stories. Poland 3 Iran 2 may not be the most ambitious piece of theatre to grace the stage, but it's a laugh as well as an insight into some very interesting lives.
NRC Handelsblad (Dutch national) Amsterdam Fringe festival, September 2012
Performing in the bar at Nottingham Forest Football ground- Hatch @ Neat Festival. A large photograph of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in the background.
Tour Venues from 2009 to 2012
Upstairs in the 'Railway Tavern'-Polish Arts Festival-Southend-on-sea 'The Earl of Derby pub' - Sampled Live Art Festival- Junction Theatre- Cambridge 'The Greyhound pub' - Pulse Fringe Festival- Ipswich 'Thistle Street Bar' - Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in association with the Pleasance Downstairs in the 'Railway Tavern'- Polish Arts Festival-Southend-on-sea 'Student bar' - Lakeside Theatre- University of Essex 'The Dark Horse' - Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Polish Cultural Week- Belfast The bar of the 'Nightingale Theatre', - Brighton Fringe Festival The bar at 'Toynbee Studios'- London The Hawth- Crawley South Street Theatre-Reading The Hat Factory-Luton The Brewhouse Theatre- Inna Space Festival-Taunton Nottingham Forest football clubground bar- Hatch @ Neat Festival- Nottingham. Sodra Teatern- Stockholm, Sweden Teatromania Festival- Bytom, Poland Spiegel Tent, -Best of Brighton Fringe- at Amsterdam Fringe Festival, Holland