Theatre review: Queens Of Syria, Edinburgh

Queens Of Syria offers an unforgettable experience. Picture: Vanja Karas
Queens Of Syria offers an unforgettable experience. Picture: Vanja Karas
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Sometimes, a piece of theatre appears that simply transcends theatre, and becomes a vital document for our time. Queens Of Syria, now on tour around the UK, is one of those shows; a version of Euripides’s Trojan Women that brings together a cast of 13 Syrian refugee women now living in Jordan, and – within a slender frame-work of choruses from the original drama – invites them to tell their own stories of loss, exile and horror, and to protest against a timeless human tragedy now repeating itself in front of our eyes.

Queens Of Syria | Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh | Rating ****

The result – mainly in Syrian Arabic, with English subtitles – is not an easy piece to watch. The stories and letters to absent loved ones are heartbreaking; the women’s anger is palpable and some of it is directed straight at us, the comfortable watchers of the West, who toy with questions about how media images of horror “make us feel”, while others suffer the loss of homes, loved ones, work, dignity, and their entire beloved country.

Yet the original idea behind the show’s design is that it should resemble a traditional Syrian funeral; and for those who are willing to enter into that rhythm, and to the intense sorrow that drives it, Queens Of Syria offers an unforgettable experience, shaped by a light-touch score from David Gregory.

There are some tremendous performances from the cast, with Reham Al-Hakim leading them in Edinburgh, in a concentrated mourning ritual of great power, that exists not to make life easy for western audiences, but to speak truth to the power we have, if only we choose to use it.