Writer/Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
A key feature of Wilfred Owen’s war-time poetry is his awareness of the physicality, of the bodies of the men he writes about. These bodies and their visceral descriptions are shorthand for atrocity, for torture, for pain. The grinding nature of the war machine is introduced in seven normal words: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks”. This neat referencing of the body and physicality is shown fully in Amir Nizar Zuabi and Corinne Jaber’s one woman show about the Syrian war, which even extends the idea to the visible sense with flesh being destroyed on stage as the story progresses. It’s a startlingly effective device, one among many that provide this play with a serious emotional impact.
Written after Jaber and Zuabi spent time visiting refugee camps in Jordan, the story follows a woman’s search for a man, Ashraf, she met and fell in love with in Paris. Her search takes her through increasingly dangerous territory to Taffas in Syria, his hometown, a town that had been burned and bombed into virtual oblivion. Through her journey she encounters different people who help her to find Ashraf, hearing their stories of torture, death, war and daily minutiae along the way which are then related to the audience.
The way this play is constructed brings several layers that reinforce each other as the piece progresses. Throughout the play there is a finely tuned comparison with extraordinary violence and regular life. This is ultimately referenced in the play itself by the cooking onstage of kubah, a routine daily activity for thousands of people, while the highly charged narrative is related. We see fear and violence become so heightened that even the most outstanding parts of the everyday are reduced to mere routine “We make love… It’s the most ordinary thing we can do”.
It is the construction of this play that is so compelling. Constantly circling back to the same theme, reinforcing it through visual, oral, aural and even olfactory cues drives home the central message of the disrupting and personal nature of the Syrian war. Not a huge amount happens in the story itself, the value really is in the performance and the language, neither of which lets the simple plot down.
Far from seeking to entertain, this is theatre as reportage. It’s an important work, timely and emotionally difficult. In fact, it seems to be quite a hard work emotionally for Jaber to perform given her massive personal involvement in the research and creation of this piece. Nearly a full month run will be tough, but for each night of this hour-long monologue she deserves a full audience to hear her story and the story of the people she met.
Runs until 3rd May