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An Iranian Passion Play: ‘Taziyeh’ in History and Performance

Abstract

Theatre of a kind familiar to western audiences can be found in present-day Tehran – as Clive Barker's contribution to the ‘Reports and Announcements’ section later in this issue testifies. But Iran also has a traditional performing mode little known in the West – the Taziyeh, first performed in Britain at the Islamic Cultural Centre in London, and elsewhere, during April 2000. Taziyeh is a passion play, which like its medieval Christian antecedents remains inextricably linked with its religious purpose – the commemoration of the martyrdom of the third Imam of the Shi'ite Muslims, Ali Hussein, and his family in the desert of Kerbala. This relationship sustains a dramaturgy which diverges significantly from western forms, and seems at times almost contradictory – with actors who clearly know their parts by heart none the less required to read them from their scripts, to sustain both the immediacy and the spiritual truth of the performance. In this account of the origins, development, and present state of the Taziyeh, Reza Ale-Mohammed resolves such contradictions through an analysis of the play's distinctive quality, its performance, and its relationship with the audiences it reaches and the faith it expresses. Reza Ale-Mohammed recently completed his doctorate on the Taziyeh at the University of Warwick.

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New Theatre Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0266-464X
  • EISSN: 1474-0613
  • URL: /core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly
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