Writer: Matthew Zajac
Director: Ben Harrison
Reviewer: Chloe St George
On the face of it, The Sky is Safe is a two-hander: privileged Western male meets guarded, resilient Syrian woman in Istanbul. But Dogstar Theatre is committed to preserving the experiences of individuals caught up in much greater socio-political epochs. As a result, the production beholds the stories of a number of Syrian women, representative, we assume, of countless others.
Istanbul, where Europe and Asia come together, is the significant setting, and the sense of place is fleshed out with the help of gorgeous music, and the hum of Turkish street scenes. High, grey, walls making up the set, created by Syrian artist Nihad Al Turk, are at once imposing and exciting – offering places to hide and explore. Dana Hajaj charms us with an Arabic lullaby, before singing with gruffness and bitterness in despair at civilisation. Her multitude of characters – Syrian women whose testimonies informed the script – are convincing and resolved, if not varied.
The play markets itself as approaching identity, power and choice. One more theme must be added to this, as it makes for some of the most interesting watching: moral responsibility, particularly the role of the West in the Syrian conflict. It is gently handled; at no point does the play feel like an accusation or a guilt trip, but challenges are fed in. Are Syrian refugees ‘victims’ of a monstrous war – for which we cannot blame ourselves, but only look upon with empathy? Or are they the ‘end products’ of what people – perhaps ourselves included – have done? Even from our far-off standpoint, how ethical are our jobs, when you trace them back?
The character of Gordon, our Scotsman, whom Matthew Zajac portrays with a kind-hearted touch, is forced to inspect himself in light of these questions. When Zajac returns to the stage as a Western reporter, the intensity and cinematographic heights of his reporting almost rival the war zone behind him. Happy to be the voice of the conflict for Western audiences, but doing nothing to help, or give a voice to the civilians behind the scenes. Fortunately, the play does take on that responsibility, and with no great faults, but could pack more emotional punch.
Runs until 27 August 2017 | Image: Contributed