Review: Haram Iran (Above The Stag) JohnnyFox April 12, 2016 Reviews, Theatre Haram Iran is such a brave departure from Above The Stag’s usual diet of gaydar-dating comedies and slight musicals. The execution of two teenage boys in Mashhad, the second city of Iran, ostensibly for homosexuality in 2005 provoked international outrage and now the West becomes increasingly disillusioned with Saudi Arabia and eyes up Iran as its dancing partner remains an important subject. Particularly for me, as I booked a trip to Iran for next month, although I’ve now decided to cancel. Because there is no reliable reportage from inside the country, almost the whole of American injury lawyer Jay Paul Deratany‘s script is speculative, and deliberately romanticised. He has imagined truly sweet scenes between the two boys, especially the tentative tenderness of Ayaz towards his idolised friend Mahmoud. It’s so gentle. They never kiss and barely even touch. Their communicable passion is for a forbidden copy of The Catcher in the Rye and its wayward teenage hero Holden Caulfield. You could argue that the fondness of a studious bookworm for the school footballing champ is a cliché already overworked in gay literature, but Deratany makes it plausible and the affecting performance of Viraj Juneja as Ayaz elevates it to beauty. His mother is an interesting character who studied in Paris before the ‘revolution’ put paid to female careers and Silvana Maimone delivers a refined blend of fire and compassion as a woman clearly much brighter than all around her but resigned to mending shirts and making dinner. After the interval, the prison scenes borrow predictably from Midnight Express with a side order of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and if undocumented the rape feels contrived as well as gratuitous. Suspension of disbelief is most challenged in the Sharia trial which proceeds like a pantomime and you can’t immediately work out whether that’s a downshift in the writing or Iranian Mullahs really do shout “off with his head” as frequently and randomly as the Red Queen in Alice. There are 85 Sharia courts in the United Kingdom. Tomorrow night, a Channel 4 documentary will say that half of British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal. In Britain. I’ll just leave that here. All drama is written from an authorial perspective and in polemical work you can’t expect the monstrous to be equably represented, but Deratany misses an important issue that intervention by gay and human rights activists (including Peter Tatchell) may have inflamed the case and caused the Iranian clerics to enact harsher penalties. Also that their punishment wasn’t just the whim of a single Mullah in provincial District 19, but the boys subsequently lost an appeal in the Tehran Supreme court where accusations of theft and assault were also considered. There are so many facets to this story I’d love to see it expanded into a television project with the production values of The Night Manager and parallel scenes of the alarm-raising campaign in the UK, the feuding between different human rights agencies, and the political or diplomatic intercessions by the Blair government which may have been compromised because of oil or arms-trade interests. And having received 228 lashes, why did Ayaz Marhoni put on a clean, freshly-ironed shirt for the hanging? If I were Deratany I’d be parcelling up a treament and sending it to the BBC. For now, it’s a tender love story and a fascinating slit-window glimpse into a world we barely comprehend.