Cardiff’s pub theatre The Other Room has today announced a co-production with Swansea’s Grand Ambition. Baba Joon (‘Father Dear’) is the first play by Lisa Zahra and will run at Swansea Grand Theatre from October 17-21 before transferring internationally to California to be performed in San Francisco and San Jose, then returning to be part of The Other Room’s opening season at its new venue in Barrack Lane early 2024.
From sitting in her Baba’s Merc after school, prayer beads dangling and Julio Iglesias playing too loud on the radio, to Iranian breads and pickles in a Cardiff flat smelling of rose water, a Swansea-born daughter longs to visit her father’s country. Will that freedom ever come?
Incorporating witty and poetic spoken word, physical movement and a soundtrack that fuses 90’s dance and traditional Iranian music, Baba Joon (Father Dear) is an evocative portrayal of one man’s experiences of arriving in Wales from Iran in the 1970s and his daughter’s navigation through the joys and complexities of being from a mixed heritage family living in South Wales.
Writer and performer Lisa Zahra herself has an Iranian Dad and a Welsh Mum and will be returning home to Swansea following her appearance in the National Theatre’s Grenfell: in the words of survivors. Lisa comments, “I am so excited to be back home in Swansea working on Baba Joon at the Grand Theatre, it’s where it all started for me at just 14. It’s also a great honour to be back working with The Other Room, a company who are very close to my heart. I’m returning home after living and working in London for 12 years where I was always pining for the sea and mountains. I’ve been part of some wonderful productions in the West End and National Theatre e.g The Kite Runner, The Boy With Two Hearts and more recently Grenfell. They have all explored the themes of immigration, community and belonging, which always brings me back to thinking of home, and how Wales has that warm and friendly welcome for all who land here, with a strong sense of community in its heart. What better place to be returning to share the story of my upbringing.”
Artistic Director of The Other Room Dan Jones comments, “We always knew there would be a period where TOR would not have a dedicated theatre space as we moved from our current home in Harlech Court to Barrack Lane – and as our previous production of Idle, They Yammer suggests, we aren’t the type of organisation to sit idly by and wait for what comes next. So, while we are busy building for the future, we thought we’d take TOR on, well, tour! There is no doubt that the city of Swansea is at the heart of Lisa’s writing. We commissioned Lisa as a part of our 2021 writers programme supported by Bad Wolf, Arts & Business Cymru, Arts Council Wales and the Carne Trusts, and have been developing it in partnership with Grand Ambition for some time now. So, it made sense that we return to the Swansea Grand for the first time since The Effect (by Lucy Prebble, 2018) to tell this story among, and with the community it is about. Then, thanks to the generosity of San Jose University, the play will also tour to the USA, before a homecoming in the new version of TOR in 2024.
Baba Joon is bursting with poetry, with honesty and rage. From protest to the deeply personal, from global geo-political events to Swansea’s Kings Way – what Lisa is doing with this story is one of the bravest feats I have seen a writer/actor take on. While it might not be in The Other Room, it will still be everything our audiences know and love about our work, and who knows, we might just pick up some new audiences on the other side of the M4 and even the Atlantic Ocean!”
Baba Joon will be directed by Izzy Rabey, former Assistant Director at The Other Room. Izzy comments, “It’s one of my biggest joys as a director to work with writer/performers on new stories and to have a story about Welsh Middle Eastern identity and the complexity of mixed heritage with such a brilliant performer is a real honour for me. What I really love about this piece is that it doesn’t ever solve the complex feelings of not fitting in or being brown or white enough whilst belonging to different cultures, it celebrates the messiness of that. The pride in it. Lisa has expressed this so beautifully. It’s incredibly exciting for me to facilitate the telling of a story of the Iranian diaspora here with a creative team of amazing women artists who all can connect over what it means to be Welsh and/or what it means to be of mixed heritage.”
Baba Joon runs from Tue 17 – Sat 21 October, 7.45pm and tickets are available now from www.swanseagrand.co.uk To keep updated on The Other Room, you can follow the team on Instagram www.instagram.com/otherroomtheatre, Facebook www.facebook.com/otherroomtheatre and Twitter @TORtheatre.