Some agonies are beyond telling. Some need to be told.
So wrote Euripides in The Trojan Women, a tragedy focussing on the agonies experienced by the women left behind after the battle of Troy. In this extraordinary production, thirteen female Syrian refugees share their own tragedies, interspersed with speeches from Euripides that are all too relevant to their own experiences.
Told largely in Arabic with English surtitles, the production offers each woman an opportunity to reminisce about her life in Syria before the conflict, and to share her experiences of war and her feelings about being a refugee. Speeches are composed of letters to family members, private memories, and, occasionally, direct addresses to the audience. It is a love letter to their country, which, like Troy, has been immeasurably scarred by the destructive hand of war.
This is theatre at its most raw and poignant: real life horror stories told by the victims and survivors. As Waed states clearly: “we are not here to entertain you.” Staging is stark and minimalistic, nothing detracting from the power of the stories being shared. The use of the women’s own personal possessions (to call them props would be trite) prohibits any possibility of the suspension of disbelief: the keys to a house long since abandoned, a jar of coffee, a photograph – relics from a life left behind.
What is most striking and inspiring is the poise of each woman as she tells her story, each speaker displaying incredible strength and resolve while sharing unthinkable tragedy – of family members kidnapped and murdered, of fleeing burning buildings, of giving birth to a child in a deserted hospital with no medical help. These moments of quiet reflection only serve to heighten the impact of their forceful delivery of Euripides’ words, screaming and cursing those who have brought destruction upon their heads.
In the face of all that they have suffered, we can only admire their words to their children, and their assurances that love, tolerance and forgiveness must be maintained despite all pain. Their determination to maintain dignity in the face of unendurable pain is humbling and inspirational. No standing ovation could do justice to the power of their performance.
Queens Of Syria runs at the Young Vic until 9 July. A gala performance will take place on 24 July at the New London Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the official website.