Queens Of Syria, Young Vic, theatre review: ‘refugees tell devastating stories of a brutal conflict’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 19 July 2016

Queens of Syria at the Young Vic. Picture: Vanja Karas

Queens of Syria at the Young Vic. Picture: Vanja Karas


Into the febrile cauldron of Brexit debate comes a devastatingly direct piece: 13 female Syrian refugees sharing their stories.

Into the febrile cauldron of Brexit debate comes a devastatingly direct piece: 13 female Syrian refugees sharing their stories.

This devised work – which began as a drama therapy workshop cuts through numbing statistics and dehumanising generalisations like “swarm of migrants”, putting us face to face with survivors of brutal conflict.

Their testimonies are refracted through Euripides’s great anti-war play The Trojan Women – how little has changed since 415 BC.

In Zoe Lafferty’s restrained staging, the women appear on screen or speak into microphones, while the rest sit and listen.

The power of listening is key: these are voices often drowned out by the din.

They read letters to lost family members, recalling familiar experiences, like sibling squabbling or breathing in jasmine, alongside horror.

One gave birth alone in hospital – the staff fled during a bombing raid; another escaped with her children in pyjamas, turning to see her city on fire.

“It was stay and die, or leave.”

They identify with their Euripidean counterparts: refugee Hecuba, enslaved Cassandra, bereaved Andromache.

Reham Alhakim briefly breaks down as she recounts her aunt burying her son.

But they never invite pity. There’s fury, brisk refutation of misinformation (they want to work and study, and they want to return to rebuild Syria) and parodying of patronising questions.

Though we get lyricism and song, they’re not here to entertain, but to communicate, in our language: theatrical storytelling, that great facilitator of empathy.

Howard Hudson’s lighting makes faces too indistinct, subtitles sometimes go out of sync with spoken Arabic, and the clarity of delivery varies, but the latter feels inconsequential.

Their resolve, and faith in humanity, is awe-inspiring: “To light a candle is better than damning the darkness.”

The company perform at New London Theatre on July 24

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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