This is a play that pierces my heart. I’ve seen it in production twice but reading it now can still bring me to tears.
Michael Futcher and Helen Howard wrote A Beautiful Life based on the real story of an Iranian musician they had worked with. In a disclaimer at the beginning of the play they state that, “The true events on which the play is based have been interpreted in a dramatic way and, therefore, A Beautiful Life should not be regarded as representing historical fact.” Knowing that the play is based on a real story makes it all the more powerful and memorable, but it would still be a moving, meaningful work of art without the biographical elements. This is the mark of excellent playwriting.
A Beautiful Life tells the story of an Iranian family fleeing Iran after Hamid, the father, has been imprisoned and tortured for years for helping a friend. Masud turned up at Hamid and his wife Jhila’s family home because he was on the run. He asked for their help without telling them the dangers he was putting them under and, because friendship is not taken lightly, Hamid agreed to help him.
MASUD: There’s something I should have told you. (He reaches for his bag and pulls out a gun.) When I leave here I’m going to have to ask you to get rid of these. You’d have to be careful. There are grenades too. Could you do it?
HAMID: I won’t let you down.
JHILA: (whispering) If I were Masud, I wouldn’t do this to my friends.
The story of what happened to Hamid and his family in Iran and their escape to Australia was the starting point for this play. What makes it work so brilliantly is Michael and Helen’s decision to mix the excitement of the escape with another true story (albeit not one that the family actually experienced).
In Canberra in 1992, Iranian refugees raided the Iranian embassy after hearing reports of an alleged atrocity committed in their country of origin. The event was blown up out of all proportion and the refugees were branded terrorists, placed under arrest and some were convicted. The torture and suffering they had experienced at the hands of the Iranian regime was not considered relevant to their case and our court system silenced them once again.
In A Beautiful Life, Hamid and Jhila go to Canberra to protest peacefully and are caught up in the frenzy when Hamid recognises one of the embassy officials as the guard who tortured him in Iran. Footage of Hamid looking as if he is about to attack the official is used to prosecute him in court. His prosecution in Tehran is juxtaposed with his Australian trial, the same actor who plays his torturer, also playing the Australian prosecutor.
The play is narrated by Hamid and Jhila’s son Amir in a way that’s warm, engaging and that helps move the plot quickly and clearly.
AMIR: Mum and Dad have this habit of getting themselves into trouble. A lot of Iranians do, especially in Iran. I think it’s to do with their in-built love of life being slightly at odds with their Government’s belief that this is a world in which we ought not to live. You endure this life and have fun in the next. Only most people can’t wait that long.
I defy anyone with a beating heart not to be moved, inspired and outraged by A Beautiful Life. Gorgeous drama and definitely worthy of a revival.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 6M, 2F