Theatre reviews: Revolution Days | Maryland

Based on her first-hand experiences of the Arab Spring, Mariem Omari’s Revolution Days is a timely reminder that we should treat the refugees who arrive on our shores with kindness and compassion, writes Joyce McMillan
Raghad Chaar in Revolution Days PIC: Mihaela BodlovicRaghad Chaar in Revolution Days PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Raghad Chaar in Revolution Days PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

Revolution Days, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ****

Maryland, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (rehearsed reading)

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive; and to be young, was very heaven,” wrote William Wordsworth, of his experience of the French Revolution of 1789; and it’s because of the blissful intensity of those moments of uprising and hope – the music, the brilliant graffiti and graphics, the humour, the song, the intense sense of equality and shared humanity among all the different groups represented in the movement – that nothing crushes the human soul like a revolution defeated, or gone wrong.

Mariem Omari’s solo play Revolution Days, seen briefly in Edinburgh and Glasgow this week, is a powerful and heartbreaking monologue, based on her own real-life experience as a humanitarian worker in the Middle East during the time of the so-called “Arab Spring” ten years ago, and performed by Raghad Chaar, who herself arrived in Scotland from Syria at the age of two, in the 1990s. The 70-minute play – backed by powerful projected footage of the time, designed by Lewis den Hertog – tells the story of Samira, an idealistic young Muslim woman from Glasgow who travels to the Middle East to work as a human rights witness for the UN and then Médecins Sans Frontières, and is confronted by relentless experience both of the poverty and oppression that led to the revolutions, and of the violence that follows them, including the sexual violence that emerges unbidden and sickeningly from within the revolutionary movements themselves.

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Omari’s play, directed by Shilpa T Hyland, struggles restlessly and fascinatingly with what are perhaps unanswerable questions about the appropriate response to such horrors, from those of us who live far from current conflict zones; on one level Samira is doing what she can, on another she feels useless, a naive and patronising do-gooder amid a world of pain. And if the pace of the script and performance flag a little towards the end – when Samira’s health breaks down, and she tries to understand the impact of these witnessed horrors on her mind and body – Revolution Days remains a vivid, complex, and unforgettably challenging show, that links our lives here in the Scotland to the profound pain of the world we live in, and requires of us, in this week above all, that we at least show some measure of human kindness and welcome, to the survivors of these horrors who arrive on our shores.

This week of refugee crisis also marked Thursday’s UN day for the elimination of violence against women; and the Traverse Theatre responded to the occasion by staging three rehearsed readings – not for review – of leading UK playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland, her brief and furious 30 minute-response to the notorious murder of Sarah Everard, earlier this year, by off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens. The play also references the case of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, the two sisters murdered in a park in West London, whose bodies were later photographed and jokingly posted on WhatsApp by police officers.

Essentially, the show tells the story of two Marys – played in this reading by Rehanna Macdonald and Elspeth Turner – raped by the same man, and their visit to the police station to give evidence, which eventually takes a chilling turn. The real power of the play, though – directed here by Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir – lies in the interweaving of their story with commentary from a six-strong chorus of female Furies, who satirise, warn, and sometimes shriek their horror at the violence women still suffer, day after day. Maryland is a short text, but a vital one, reflecting the rage and sorrow of the past year; and it should be seen again as often is necessary, until we see a change in all the cultures that encourage such attitudes to women, and therefore finally collude in such horrifying acts.

Revolution Days at the Tramway, Glasgow, 26-27 November; Maryland, run completed

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