Review: Queens of Syria – Everyman Theatre

TO LIGHT a candle is better than damning the darkness. So explains one of the women during one of the interpolated video segments of this production from Developing Artists and Refuge Productions, brought to the UK on tour with the support of the Young Vic. Queens of Syria began life as a 2013 drama therapy project in Amman for Syrian women displaced from their homeland, working toward playing out Eurpides’ Trojan Women. The parallels with the ancient drama are clear, but what we see on stage is no longer 13 women presenting a piece of classic theatre. It has become something close to documentary – a kind of community autobiography. Verbatim theatre often takes the words of real people and places them in the mouths of actors, but there is no way to fully describe the power of hearing a group of women retelling their own experiences in this way. Theatre audiences will have become familiar with frequent references to “The Refugee Crisis” in mainstream performance in recent years, and the participants in Queens of Syria fire a broadside at this in the closing segments of the work. “Shall we make a play about it” quotes one. “That’s a sad story, but do you have a sadder one” says another. These jibes about the (usually) well-meaning efforts of theatre and media producers, directed straight at the audience, are a reminder that what we are seeing is not staged for effect, but to help us put real faces and real lives to the reports we’ve heard in news bulletins. To humanise the inhuman experiences that people have suffered. To make us recognise that every one of them had homes, lives and families like our own that have been shattered forever. This is not easy to watch, but if it can use the lighting of its own small candles to start illuminating the darkness of the horrors created by civil war, then maybe we can stop seeing a problem and begin looking for solutions.   Queens of Syria gave two performances as part of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival at the Everyman on Friday and Saturday and continues touring to Leeds, Edinburgh Durham and London. Review by Nigel Smith