Backgammon for Beginners is a solid attempt to delve into the nebulous, often loaded and always sensitive topic of multiculturalism. The bickering over the exact details of the uncertain character is a pensive mirroring of misapprehensions and gawping hearsay understandably prevalent, though not necessarily permissible, of an unfamiliar culture. Is it true, for example, that in Iran the hands of thieves are nailed to the floor for a full day in the markets they stole from? Do fathers really kiss their daughters?

On a set that resembles a cubist backgammon board (freestanding triangles and stacked disc-pieces) the life of an Iranian émigré to London in the 1970s is mapped out. Our guides, the So & So Circus performers Kaveh Rahnama, Lauren Hendry and Roshi Nasehi, are unreliable narrators. Each differs in opinion about why the quasi-tragic figure came to London, who he stayed with and just how many illegitimate oats he sewed.

As is clear from the company's name, a large proportion of Backgammon for Beginners is acrobatics and gymnastics. Rahnama and Hendry flip and dive over each other as a story-telling device and for the pure beauty of their movement. They defy gravity exercising and exhibiting enthralling strength and flexibility. The experiences of the ambiguously-named protagonist and central character are represented through sensuality rather than straight acting. Nasehi stands removed at a keyboard at the side of the stage, occasionally contributing dialogue. The musician's primary role is creating a rich atmosphere with feather-light piano tinkling and a meditative singing voice. At times, however, Nasehi feels relegated to a supporting role and is not cohesive with the events on stage.

The sense of ambiguity evoked by unanswered questions, conflicting accounts from unreliable narrators and a high proportion of physical storytelling gradually transforms the audience into the outsider, the foreigner. Understanding becomes a compelling goal and we are fine-tuned to attain as much knowledge and narrative as possible in a melée of movement and a shuffled narrative.

As with most physical forms of storytelling, the acrobatics as a method for chronicling a tale outshine the tale itself. The segments of Backgammon that provide the most awe are when the movement directly represents speech. There are gorgeous moments when Lauren forms the monuments of Iran, the potential elephants roaming the streets and a bride standing (highly honourably) on her father's head on her wedding day.

The only certainty of Backgammon for Beginners is the arrival to London of an overwhelmed Iranian man. Thereafter, So & So Circus creates multiple alternate possibilities as complicated as the stunning acrobatics. Musical accompaniment transcends the story across time and place, while the piece gently progresses into a confusion of cultural misapprehensions and the troughs and crests of life.  

Backgammon for Beginners, at Jacksons LaneStefan Nicolaou reviews So & So Circus's Backgammon for Beginners at Jackson's Lane Theatre.4