Friday, 13 February 2009

Damascus - Tricycle Theatre

Damascus by David Greig
Director: Philip Howard
Reviewer: Adrian Pumphrey

I do not really know an awful lot about Syria which meant I was pretty excited about watching a play designed to – as writer David Greig put it – 'explore the complexities between the west and the Arab world.' Unfortunately after watching it, I would say I am not much the wiser.

Damascus tells the story of a young Scottish businessman (Paul Higgins) on a trip to sell English language textbooks to a Syrian education agent (Nathalie Armin) and her business partner (Alex Elliot). Things happen one after the other meaning plane after plane for the trip home is cancelled. What was meant to be a simple overnight business trip away from the family soon turns into an obsession with his seductive Syrian associate.

The acting was praiseworthy with a solid performance from Higgins and Armin alike. The Manuelesque character of Zakaria, kept the play alive and was played superbly by Khalid Laith. Also, with the play having a fairly slow pace, the inclusion of the lobby pianist Elena (Dolya Gavanski) was refreshing though it felt random at times.

The atmosphere was effective and well put together. From the moment you walked in to the theatre you stepped in to a hotel lobby in a modern, Middle Eastern city. The stage was lit and a TV on stage in the lobby was playing news footage from Al-Jazeera. Unfortunately, this was one of the only things that really gave a sense that you were anywhere outside of North London.

References to Syrian life were few and far between and where they were present, they tended to be in over-obvious places. The prime example of this was in the inclusion of a discussion over how a Syrian might feel about 'Westernised' anecdotes for aids in the English Language textbooks.

What started out as a well meaning exploration into cultural difference, soon descended into a just a story of a businessman drawn into an emotional relationship, due to bad circumstances and bad decisions.

This play attempted to bring to the fore the discussion of differences in Eastern and Western perspectives. It turned out to be more of a business trip romance gone wrong with a few references to how culture affects our every day decisions. There was a distinct lack of the differences of the two ways-of-life being interwoven into the plotline. However, for what the play lacked in story, it made up for in acting and the atmosphere produced.

'Damascus' did not make me want to visit Syria anytime soon. It did however provide a good night out on what was a very wet evening.

Photos: Tristram Kenton
Damascus runs at the Tricycle until Sat 7th March 2009

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