Yalda cannot win. She is being pulled in every direction. Her mother is English her father, Iranian. He left Iran in the late seventies with dreams of reaching Canada. He made it as far as Hull fell in love and decided to make a new life here.
Yalda – Iranian Woman is a new play written by Roya Amiri and Dave Windass, that explores the complexities of race, racism and identity. Opened for two nights at Kardomah 94, Yalda offers an insight into the mixed heritage narrative from a viewpoint seldom explored.
It is important to understand at the outset, that Roya is not playing herself. The Yalda story has been created through gathering experiences and stories, from many different sources. Despite knowing this, it is hard not to feel a certain amount of sympathy, for the young woman on stage. Yalda is also told in first person, so the line between writer/actor Roya Amiri and the character of Yalda is yet more blurred.
Blessed with a loving family Yalda grows up in East Yorkshire and just like anybody else does, needs to make sense of the world and to find her place within it. At school she is just like her English friends, but at home she is expected to be more conservative. There are certain ways a young Iranian woman is expected to behave, but like she keeps explaining to everyone, Yalda is not quite Iranian and not quite English.
Yalda’s confusion is brought sharply into focus, when she meets with disapproval from a group of Asian people waiting at a bus stop. She is dressed casually and has a new white Welsh boyfriend in tow, who she meets whilst studying at Slade Art School. One of the men waiting sees the couple and makes some comment about the way she is dressed, then spits in her face. In his eyes, she is not behaving the way a good Iranian woman should. In another potentially hostile situation after being called the P… word, Yalda finds herself protesting her Englishness, then immediately feeling guilty for denying her Iranian side.
The play uses black and white footage, to transition from one interlinked scene to the next. The analogous image of a young woman acts like a mirror reflection almost. She is every woman; sometimes she looks one way, sometimes she looks another.
Yalda – Iranian Woman was extremely well attended – not a spare seat in the house – due in some part I think, to the provocative power of the poster image: the exotic eyes look out from beneath a union jack niqab. The strong turnout is evidence that audiences are very much interested, in the lives and experiences of people from different backgrounds.
‘I tried to pray,’ Yalda says, ‘Headscarf on, forehead to the floor,’ but she does not take to a prescriptive faith. The constant search to understand her own identity leads her to develop an affinity with spirituality. Finding solace in mysticism and the poetry of the Sufi poet Rumi, Yalda seeks to learn a deeper identity, some thing not defined by East or West.