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English - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

English language is at the core of Sanaz Toossi’s play which makes its UK stage debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place before transferring to the Kiln Theatre.

Serena Manteghi, Nojan Khazai, Lanna Joffrey and Sara Hazemi. Photo by Richard Davenport.

The setting is an Iranian classroom where four students gather for a TOELF (Test of English as a Foreign Language) under the teaching of Marjan. Each student has their own reasons for attending and to learn English with the play told throughout different lessons as each person discovers there’s more than language they are learning about.

The key central figure is Marjan, a staunch teacher who sets her stall out from the first scene, all student must speak in English in the classroom and not their native Farsi. If they break this rule they get a tally against them name, 5 strikes and their out. Interesting the play used English for the scenes that would be in Farsi whilst the characters all use an Iranian accent for the scenes where they are speaking English. 

Nadia Albina is beautifully emotive both in her language and simply in her acting as Marjan. There are some really touching moments as she connects or even struggles to connect with her students. This all culminates in an including a really moving final scene.

The learning techniques are varied in the classroom, from Shakira songs, Notting Hill DVDs or a game of catch where everyone must name an object relating to a topic such as things you would find in a kitchen. Toossi’s writing is light and airy and allows for great laughs as well as those more touching moments. The dialogue is peppy and the scenes are well paced throughout the 90 minute piece. 

Serena Manteghi, Nadia Albina and Nojan Khazai. Photo by Richard Davenport.

Serena Manteghi is tremendous throughout as Elham playing every emotion perfectly. Sara Hazemi’s Goli is a warm likeable presence instantly and you feel a glow when she is on stage. Lanna Joffrey’s Roya commands well though I feel there was more to be discovered with the character. Nojan Khazai’s Omid is an interesting character especially as the piece goes on, Khazai interacts well with all but the scenes with Albina are great to watch. 

Anisha Fields design creates the classroom with chairs and tables, a whiteboard and other props. The use of the entrances is clever as is the wall behind that contains graffiti and plants.

English is undoubtedly a fascinating character study of 5 people and the paths their own and how language and relationships shape their journeys. Filled with humour and heart it’s an engaging and enlightening piece.


English plays at the RSC’s The Other Place until Saturday 1st June before transferring to London’s Kiln Theatre playing from 5th until 29th June. Visit for tickets and further information.

Nadia Albina. Photo by Richard Davenport

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