Interview with Emi Howell – Nazanin’s Story29.01.18
Read our interview with Emi Howell, Founder of Howell Productions and writer of Nazanin’s Story, as she tells us more about what inspired her to write the play and what she hopes to achieve by touring.
When did you first become aware of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her story?
I first heard about Nazanin through my mum. I’d just come home for Christmas 2016 and she was supporting Nazanin on Twitter and telling my sisters and me about Nazanin’s story. The fact that I hadn’t heard about it before that point shocked me. My younger sister went to interview Richard and when I was listening to the interview afterwards I was hit with the desire to help in any way I could.
What was it about her story that inspired you to write a play?
Hearing about the story scared me initially because I hadn’t heard it before and the people I spoke to about it hadn’t either; and the fact that this mother’s one mistake was to travel, that this could happen to anyone. I just couldn’t imagine something like this happening to one of my sisters and people not hearing about it or caring enough about the story to do something. I wanted to create a play that would inspire people to take action. I’ve always found that theatre is a fantastic platform for stories such as this as the audience identifies and connects with it on an emotional level.
Have you spoken with Nazanin herself?
I have. At the Mums’ march last year in Hampstead, Nazanin rang Richard and he invited me to talk to her. It was an amazing moment. The more I researched for this play and read her letters the more I respected this incredibly strong and brave woman. I was a little star struck on the phone.
Was her husband Richard involved in the play at all?
When I first decided to create the play, the first thing I did was approach Richard and ask for his permission for the play to go ahead. We then had several meetings where I interviewed him to help me get a competent understanding of the events that had led up to this point. During rehearsals Richard agreed to come in and talk with the cast and give them an insight to his life. He has been so incredibly supportive of the play.
Has he been to see Nazanin’s Story?
He came into rehearsals and decided there and then to come to Edinburgh with us and saw every performance, bar one. When we came back to London he came to the performances at Amnesty and Thomson Reuters as well as at the Trust Conference. What was truly special was that after each performance, he stood up and said a few words to the audience.
How was the play received when you performed at Edinburgh?
Edinburgh was extraordinary. We were only in a small venue but every night the audience was fantastic; people would approach us afterwards to ask how they could help, what they could do. It was the reception we received in Edinburgh that helped me make the decision to take the play on tour. Being long listed for the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award was truly the best way to end the Fringe!
What do you hope to achieve by touring Nazanin’s Story?
Our aim from the beginning was to share Nazanin’s story and to create a connection for the audience. When audience members approach us afterwards to say that they hadn’t heard of her story before the play, but that after seeing it, want to do something, that’s what we hope for. Every time. When Nazanin heard about the play she said it had brought her hope that she hadn’t been forgotten. If our play can help bring Nazanin home and maybe shine some light on the goings on in shadowy governments and dictatorships then I feel like we’ve reached our goal.
We’re very excited to have the play performed at the Maltings Arts Theatre, what can the audience expect?
Tears, some laughter (surprisingly!) and hopefully an inspiring message of freedom, love and hope.
Click here to watch a trailer of Nazanin’s Story.