Edinburgh Fringe 2017
They meet in Istanbul: he, a privileged Westerner and she, a Syrian refugee. This sets the scene for a complex relationship set against the backdrop of the war in Syria.
The show intersperses the fictional account of a meeting between a Scottish businessman and a Syrian woman refugee in Istanbul, with first person accounts of six different women who have fled Syria for Turkey. The drama is found in the sparring dialogue between the two protagonists, juxtaposed with the multiple and disturbing back stories of bombing, torture, survival and escape.
The script employs a lively and varied collage of styles with realistic scenes, monologue, narrative reportage, poetry and verbatim accounts (in translation.) The unaccompanied songs in Arabic are powerfully delivered by Dana Hajaj-at times angry and harsh, at other times lilting and evocative.
Projected onto a single screen on stage are street scenes of Istanbul together with Nihad Al Turk’s paintings that contain surreal representations of the human figure, with some animation. Pippa Murphy’s music and sound are also an integral part of the storytelling.
In this relevant and contemporary two-hander, Matthew Zajac and Dana Hajaj ably play several roles across different indoor and outdoor locations in Turkey and Syria. The pace of the multiple scene (and character) changes is demanding and at times frenetic, in part reflecting both the episodic structure of Zajac’s script and the speed with which the characters have had to move or flee. At other times, however, some of the scene transitions do seem a little lengthy, affecting the way we may experience the piece as theatre.
There is direct address to the audience, as well as an intentional relationship being made with us throughout the performance. We cannot help but be engaged. At the time of writing, Syria is out of the headlines again. But the war continues in all its complexity, some of which is discussed interestingly during the play: the need for ethics, the role of loyalty in war, the position of women and the toll the war is taking, and the way desperation can trigger and drive corruption.
The show is clearly based on careful research and this is confirmed by the programme notes. While Dana Hajaj tells a number of different women’s stories, there is a sense in which she is ‘everywoman’ and we are witnessing their collective experience – and courage.
This is a committed, necessary and urgent production. These are stories that need to be heard and we need to hear them.