Six figures wrap themselves under one sheet, drifting not solemnly exactly, but unnaturally — hanging together. There would be no dialogue, just music, in the opening act, which screamed “this is tragic and important and meaningful.” Obvious symbolism and hackneyed themes were en route — that was the betting favourite. But concurrent events in Aleppo, and the audience’s all too awareness of them, meant gravitas was welcome.
They swayed, dark lighting, somber music. Mood set, fade to black.
Lights: six young barefoots, all jeans and white tees, sitting on armless chairs, staring out towards the audience. They snicker, point, and laugh. They look away, sneak a look back, unsuccessfully stifling laughter. They become maniacal. What they see is hilarious. They are menacing. At first I was smiling, chuckling. But it went on. And on. And then it was uncomfortable. They fell off their chairs laughing, spasming on the ground. Writhing. My mind leapt to the six innocents killed in a gas attack in Idlib near Sarmin last year (March 2015).
The next scene. Same chairs. Our six players, three women, three men, try to regain their seating, failing, flailing. Some get so close, but an invisible force dislodges them, tosses them back to prostration. The writhing, this time, has no shades of comedy.
The players have now won our trust. We are not expecting to be suddenly ham-handed something cliche. A lot is possible once the guard of cynicism is lowered.
Lights: three women stand shoulder to shoulder, facing out in a triangle. Two men antagonise them on either side, juking and weaving as imps. The third man sits with his back to the audience. The imps throw black strips of fabric at the women from either side. Though they begin the scene proud, they get worn down.
The most complex scene had only four actors. Three women, each in one corner of the stage, battle one wiry man, who pursues a wheelchair. Whichever woman possess the wheelchair, he approaches. And as he does, she launches it across the stage to another, just out of his reach. The man throws his denier to the ground (and she gets to her feet defiant). The pursuit begins again — it always ends in vain and in violence. A wheelchair out of reach.
Eventually the man is beleaguered and the limp we hardly noticed at the beginning dominates his gait. Now one woman resists his throw, he ends up on the ground. Each woman takes her turn throwing him down. Eventually, with his final energy, he reaches his hand out to each of them and is refused. He collapses. They cart his limp body away, face down in the wheelchair’s seat, ankles dragging.
Who was the villain? Who had power? Both sides committed violence. When he needed the wheelchair he was denied and lashed out. He got assistance once he was a casualty, but not before.
The twelve scenes without a word (to the benefit of the Arabic non-fluent), just light, music, props, and action, did not fall into anything trite, nor did they go over the top — two marks of good artistic provocation. The person whom invited me mentioned the scenes were very gendered. But then again, they were dealing with a gendered conflict and a gendered culture, so maybe this appropriately reflected reality. Without revealing the contents of the whole performance, themes of gossip, news media, displacement, solidarity, gender, and violence, among others, were treated in mature provocation. With striking physicality, it was an admirable performance by CUT, whose facebook page is here (and whose pictures I have used in this post without permission).
On the night, the Gaziantep Theatre for Performing Arts (maybe a bad translation from Gaziantep Devlet Tiyatrosu) was a bit of a who’s who (I mean, I was asking who was who) of those keeping in solidarity with Syria from Gaziantep (some had come from as far as Istanbul to see the performance). Because it was hosted by the city some suits took to the stage with microphones as the players (pictured below) were taking their final bow.
One Turkish politician said something to the effect of everyone forgetting about Syrians — but not he, not Erdogan, and not Turkey — that they remember them and acknowledge them and had Aleppo in their thoughts. A low bar, that.