Young Vic Theatre, London (****)
As the Syrian disaster drags on, with its escalating refugee crisis, here is a humbling reminder to us all of its effect on the lives of the innocents.
Art is at its best when the need to express is at its most urgent, when human beings are impelled to speak and bear witness, when the act of creation becomes one of necessity. And when professional artists and their supporters have the vision and empathy to provide a space in which those voices can be heard.
Such a one is Queens of Syria, created with the help of Developing Artists and Refuge Productions with the Young Vic, recounting the personal experiences of Syrian women refugees alongside excerpts from The Trojan Women, Euripides story of the sack of Troy.
The parallels with Euripides’ tragic tale strike home with enormous power and force in the lamentations of these shrouded women weeping for their ruined city but even more so the individual personal stories told by these performers, all Syrian refugees drawn from a workshop run by Syrian director Omar Abusaada in preparation for an Arabic version of the play.
This is the power of story-telling at its most authentic, underpinned by desperation, misery and loss of homeland and most heartrendingly the minutiae of everyday lives: looking out from windows onto gardens, watching children at play, and horrifically, death in familiar streets in a language rich in metaphor, heavy with scents, smells and colours.
Ironically, given our current furore over the politicisation of motherhood, what gives Queens of Syria its majesty is its maternal voice. Occasionally, a speaker will stop, overcome, so raw still the memory.
Art as therapy, undoubtedly in recounting their experiences, this Queens of Syria is not only pricking of our own consciences – and there is rightly anger in the telling – but in some small way, an alleviation for the performers, of the grief and trauma they have undergone, bereft as refugees, of home, professions, future.
A postcard from a bloody battlefield, after the Young Vic run, Queens of Syria continue on a short UK tour. It should be compulsory viewing, especially for UKIP members.
Queens of Syria was at the Young Vic from July 5-9, 2016. Thereafter Oxford, Brighton, Liverpool, Leeds, Edinburgh. See Developing Artists.
Review first published in Reviewsgate and slightly amended here, July 2016
Queens of Syria
Adapted from The Trojan Women by Euripides
Reham Alhakim, Anwar Alsayyah, Reem Alsayyah, Waed Alsayyah, Maha Alyousef, Fatema Aodah, Kaoula Al Fahsi, Fatin Al Jasem, Mais, Duana Abdel Qader, Rahme, Sham, Rash Tamr
Direction: Zoe Lafferty
Costume: Farah Karouta
Light: Howard Hudson
Sound: David Gregory
Associate Director: Shereen Zoumot
Singing Teacher: Lufti Malhas
Translator/Surtitles: Ibrahim Ramman, Ronak Younges-Housaine
Original Set Design: Bissane al-Sharif
Jordanian Production Manager: Khalid Abu-Sharif
A Developing Artists, Refuge Productions and Young Vic co-production
Developing Artists Producer: Oliver King
Associate Producer: David Leigh-Pemberton
Supported by the British Council, UNHCR, Oxfam, UNWomen, Arts Council England, Siren, Target-Live
Co-producers: Charlotte Eagar, William Stirling, Georgina Paget