Bahram Beyza’i’s The Marionettes

Performed in 2004

The Marionettes by Bahram Beyza’i is a play which very clearly draws on native Iranian tradition. There is a long tradition of puppet theatre in Iran. Travelling theatres presented shows using either glove-puppets or marionettes. The kheymeh shab bazi (marionette theatre) was often quite elaborate – professional entertainers might have as many as 70 or 80 puppets at their disposal, and their performances were often accompanied by music. But for all that it is unmistakably based on the model of the traditional puppet theatre, The Marionettes is shaped by other traditions too. It is the work of someone au fait with the work of Pirandello and the theatre of the absurd. It is important to know that in the 1960s plays by dramatists such as Beckett and Ionesco were often translated and performed in Iran soon after their premieres in the west.

Beyza’i was born in Tehran in 1938. As a student he studied film and theatre and became fascinated by the traditions of Iranian theatre, such as the Ta’zieh (religious plays) and the puppet theatre. His Se Nemayesh nameh-ye Arousaki (Three Puppet Plays) was published in 1963. The Marionettes is the first of the three plays in this volume (the plays, despite their volume’s title, are designed for human actors). As well as a Puppet-Master, it is peopled by figures familiar from Iranian tradition and society – these include a Hero, a Knight of the sort familiar to the original audience from romance narratives and from popular entertainment; a Monster (or div) for him to fight; a girl for him to love; and representatives of the society he is defending – in this case a Cleric, a Merchant and a Poet. Beyza’i’s treatment of these characters explores many of the resonances of his central ‘puppet’ metaphor – religious and political, social and philosophical.

As well as writing a number of later plays, Beyza’i has gone on to a distinguished career as a film-maker, beginning with Ragbar (Downpour) in 1971. Later films include Kalaagh (The Crow, 1978), Cherikeye Tara (The Ballad of Tara, 1980), Marg-e Yazdgerd (Death of Yazdgerd, 1981) Mosaferan (Travellers, 1992) and Sag Koshi (Rabid Killing, 2001).

Parvin Loloi & Glyn Pursglove, Translators of The Marionettes



The fight between the Hero and the Demon



Wooing and Gaming in The Marionettes




The set of The JOOT Theatre Company's 2004 production of The Marionettes