Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Damascus" - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Before the start of the Fringe the premiere of David Greig's "Damascus" made it pretty high up most people's 'highlights' lists. Knowing that I was seeing this later than many and given the show's high profile, I've tried to avoid reading any reviews for it. But it's been impossible not to pick up a bit of a vibe that it hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Having seen the show today, I think that is terribly unfair on the production.

Set almost entirely in a Damascus hotel lobby with reception desk, coffee tables and a grand piano; the show is the story of Paul (Paul Higgins) as he attempts to sell his English language course materials/textbooks to the government and the impact his arrival has on those he encounters. Although there are political aspects to the play's dialogue, and there are certainly plenty of comments designed to make the audience think, the central themes here are not political ones. I suspect that may be part of the negative reaction in that people assumed a play set in Damascus had to be about Damascus when in fact much of the characterisation and story could be set anywhere. "Damascus" is really a story of individuals, the choices they make, and how they treat one another, and on that level it delivers.

Told in flashback by the ever-present hotel pianist, Greig effectively sets a ticking timebomb under his characters as he makes it clear that we are en-route to some dreadful event. We spend much of our time wondering who is marked for tragedy and it's to Greig's credit that right up until the final moments things could go one of two ways. The conclusion fits well with what has come before, and while not having a great deal to say about politics/nations it says a great deal about the human condition.

In addition to the flashback method used throughout, Grieg also uses a reconstruction set piece similar to those in his "Yellow Moon" which works well and brings Dolya Gavanski to the fore as Elena our pianist 'witness'. The 'translation' scenes also work well, providing much of the show's humour, along with a number of Scottish/English gags that were well received.

The performances are all as polished as you would expect for a production with such a pedigree and do a good job in making the situations believable with clear chemistry between Paul and Muna (Nathalie Armin) well supported by Alex Elliott as Wasim and Khalid Laith as receptionist/porter Zakaria.

Leave your preconceptions of "Damascus" in the bar and enjoy it for the entertaining, morally ambiguous and moving story of individuals.

"Damascus"
runs at the Traverse until 26 August (times vary). Please note that some dates have no tickets available from www.edfringe.com but may still be available directly from the Traverse.

3 Heckles

Waldorf said...

I mentioned in our"Venus Is A Boy" review about how The Traverse is really good about having novels/scripts available for their shows. As some of us had to work today, Statler was kind enough to pick up a copy of "Damascus" for me.

NTS productions also seem to do this quite frequently (Dissocia and Black Watch spring to mind). The more cynical might think it's just another way to extract some cash out of us, but the bibliophile in me loves it. They're always very well priced ("Damascus" was £3), and give you something more tangible than the programme to take home at the end of the night. The fact they give the reviewer something to refer to doesn't harm their cause either.

I'm now off to read Mehndi Nights, whose programme also included the script.

claire said...

I loved Damascus. I thought Paul Higgins was brilliant. I thought the writing was cracking - though perhaps the second half was a little bit unwieldy. But lots of thought-provoking stuff.

I'm always disappointed to find out that plays / characters are based on real life as I much prefer to believe they're entirely invented by the author. But apparently many of the characters in 'Damascus' are based on people Mr Greig had met during various workshop sessions with dramatists in the Middle East. Still, that isn't to discredit his efforts at all.

(And thank you so much for the advance ticket sales. Much appreciated!)

bluedog said...

I am a long standing fan of David Greig's plays, so a new full length play was an event not to be missed.

Saw this in preview, and thought it was excellent, although I was not absolutely convinced about the conclusion.

My day job as a farmer gets really busy and clashes with the Edinburgh Festival, making it pretty impossible to get to much - unless it is raining!