LUKE JONES WANTED TO CARE, BUT SOMEHOW..
Running again through the plot of this play l in my head, I think ‘surely it’s gripping’.? Coffins of martyrs are continuing to stack up in a Syrian village. They’re fallen government forces fighting ‘terrorists’ in their own country. Amongst the choreographed, state-approved celebration is a father fuming. He’s not allowed to see his son’s corpse and this just fuels his mistrust in the government and the local party. Why can’t he see his son? Where is he?
‘Goats for martyrs’ is the new scheme – a goat for every family who lost a son. What should be a slap in the face is lapped up by the propaganda-soaked residents. It’s a solid story and the playwright is a Syrian documentary maker (Liwaa Yazji). If anyone can distil and stage this story surely it’s her. It’s not some West Londonite tapping their pencil on their noggin trying to squeeze some creative juice out of the foreign horrors they’ve just seen on Newsnight. They’re proper.
But the result is a dramaless, limp and lifeless play. It’s desperate stuff. The plot – essentially simple – is congested in a jumpy and ugly staging by director Hamish Pirie. The set is a wonkily lit and cluttered arena with screens dotted on scaffolding poles.The snappy succession of scenes, set up with standard dramatic tension just fizzle to nothing with the barren dialogue. The day A.I writes plays, they will sound like this.
As a result the performances were broad and emotionally deaf. The only variety, surprisingly, came from the unexplained variety of accents. I counted various London, East Midlands, pseudo-American and middle eastern voices, despite all the characters being from this one Syrian village. A procession of live goats is trotted to the stage. Why not? Much publicised and, oddly, the only thing that made sense.
I wanted to feel something, When brainwashed youths raged against the older man who defied the propaganda, or a silent mother listened on the phone to the gunshots her son was enduring , when the state-tv journalist trotted out lies to the mourners she was reporting on, I wanted to feel. But the total lack of stagecraft killed everything. There was no drama, no journalistic insight, no character exploration, no jokes. Just goats.
Full disclosure; I bailed at the interval.
Until 30th December
Rating: Theatrecat can’t rate it because Luke bailed out early…his reaction is ,like all audience members’ , to be respected, and just because a subject is real and harshly tragic it doesn’t mean a play works as drama. But in fairness I must mention that the Guardian preview claimed it is “bitterly funny”, others say words “bold” and “important”
. See other reviews , make your own mind up…