Theatre

'I exist as two people': Peyvand Sadeghian lays bare the politics of identity

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story star Peyvand Sadeghian's dad was a refugee who left Iran in 1979 to become British. She works through her dual nationality – and the complexities that brings – on stage

Peyvand Sadeghian as a child in Iran

Peyvand Sadeghian as a child in Iran. Image: Peyvand Sadeghian

In a world marked by borders and passports, I exist as two people – Peyvand who is British and Parisa who is Iranian. Now, lots of people have dual citizenship, and/or change their names. But both aspects of my official identity, in every sense of the word, are not of my choosing.

I might not have chosen the name Peyvand, but I do like it. It translates to “a connection” or “joining”. But it is an illegal name in Iran, and official names have to be chosen from the official list, and Peyvand ain’t on it.

This isn’t that unusual in Iran – when news in September 2022 broke of the death of a young woman in Iran after being detained for “improper hijab”, sparking the start of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement, supporters for her and her family were keen to also make sure her unofficial (Kurdish) name was spoken: Mahsa Jina Amini. 

Peyvand Sadeghian in her Edinburgh Fringe Festival show Dual دوگانه
Peyvand Sadeghian in her Edinburgh Fringe show Dual دوگانه. Image: Ali Wright

I am often told how lucky I am to possess two passports. But I must say, I’ve yet to see the personal benefit of this particular pairing. I was born in the UK, and have always lived here, but was not automatically granted citizenship – only discovering paperwork of being born with refugee status when applying for my own passport in my early adulthood. Paperwork confirming I wasn’t in employment when I would have still been in nappies, and seeing my naturalisation certificate at primary school age.

My dad was a refugee who left Iran in 1979, but became British too. I didn’t realise I joined him on this bureaucratic journey despite being born years after his arrival.

My journey began when I was 10, during a trip to Iran with my father to meet that side of the family. What I thought would be an adventure-packed summer holiday to brag about to my classmates turned into a transformative experience. One that left me politically aware but feeling utterly alone back home in East London. This part of my identity is more than an amalgamation of cultural experiences. It is a testament to the complexities of nationality, identity, and the power they hold over our lives.

As I see the refugee crisis unfold, I realise the importance of individual narratives, stories of people forced to abandon their homes and identities, mirroring my own ‘what ifs’. What if I had lived in Iran as Parisa? This question is at the heart of my show, Dual دوگانه, where I lay bare the politics of identity and explore its absurdities.

The stage is a great place for working through stuff. I hope that performing this piece platforms voices that might otherwise fall out of general consciousness, encouraging audiences to question their understanding of the world. As I prepare to bring Dual دوگانه to the Edinburgh Fringe before hitting London and Manchester, I am excited by the potential for shared experiences and conversations. 

The world is not black and white. It’s a knotty in-between. A criticism of your country isn’t necessarily a damnation of it. Histories aren’t clear cut. My goal is to stimulate thought, incite lively chat and spur someone towards making a difference in some-thing they care fundamentally about. 

Dual دوگانه  is at the Pleasance 10 Dome, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 17-28 August, (pleasance.co.uk), Camden People’s Theatre 19-23 September and HOME, Manchester from 4-5 October (homemcr.org)

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