Based on true events, Haram Iran tells the compelling and deeply upsetting story of two teenage boys in Iran who are punished with the death penalty for their innocent experimentation. Interwoven with the tale of the Catcher in the Rye, this is a coming-of-age story with oppression and fear in the place of freedom and learning.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged in Justice Square in Mashhad, Iran in 2005. Many people believe their ‘crime’ was homosexuality – and Jay Paul Dertany’s imagining of the events leading up to their death deals with feelings of lust, longing and unfulfilled desire. In Iran in 2003, being gay is ‘Haram’ – forbidden – along with activities ranging from reading in English to eating rice krispie squares.

Deratany’s script begins unsteadily and finds its feet as the piece goes on. In many of the scenes between Mahmoud (Andrei Costin) and Ayaz (Viraj Juneja) in the first act the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. The actors do an admirable job with these sections, injecting convincing boyish humour and energy into their performances. Silvana Maimone is dignified and eloquent as Ayaz’ well-educated mother and her expressions of maternal love and grief are subtly powerful.

Later scenes, set in the jail and the courtroom, have a greater intensity. Sanjiv Hayre’s performance as the lawyer brings gravitas to the stage and provides a sombre counterpoint to the incompetent and ignorant jailer (Fanos Xenofos) and judge (George Savvides).

This production does not shy away from the brutality of Ayaz and Mahmoud’s story, with unflinching and visceral depictions of violence, oppressive staging and a tense soundtrack that builds a sense of foreboding. Haram Iran is an important play that treats the subject matter with the seriousness it deserves.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor