OH MY SWEET LAND
by Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Young Vic (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 3 May 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 April.
Tasteful show lacks salt in its wounds.
When the bombs drop, the mortars roar, the gunfire cracks, you don’t cook a meal. Generally, you hide under the table, in a cellar, or you run. And one problem with this piece, conceived by Syrian-German Corinne Jaber, who also plays the Syrian-German character cooking with a relish that seems as nostalgically patriotic as it is culinary, is that the stories of pain and sorrow collected as material for writer-director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s script, are told at such a deliberate pace.
Almost every emotion can be experienced in the conflict and horrors that have consumed Syria and impacted beyond its borders (like the recent effective take-over of an area of Iraq by Al Qaeda). Somehow, hearing them incorporated within an overall, quite possibly fictional, story recounted while preparing food in a Paris apartment, makes the manufactured nature of the piece more evident, as does its self-consciously poetic title.
Perhaps this was all intended to set-off the material gathered from Syrians affected by the war – to make the darkness more brightly visible. But sustained talk of atrocities hardly goes with continued concentration on cooking a meal, however traditional the dish and positive a reminder it is of traditional values.
While the show’s going on, this simmering, or that boiling, more people are dying and being injured, more homes destroyed. For what and by whom? Where do the causes lie – without understanding that, there’s little hope of stopping destruction?
Jaber’s character has her own search, her own brief visit to Syria. The personal fiction sits uncomfortably with the reported actuality. What takes centre stage is the concern of the character before us and her editing of the conflict. And any choice that goes beyond mere recital of facts increases the sense of authorial editing. And the one-person format allows no argument, no evaluation. Even calmly done, it seems to extort emotional sympathy.
It is beautifully performed, and at least questions Bertolt Brecht’s dismissive term ‘culinary theatre’. The script can be mined for documentary horrors to sup full of. Yet the experience remains too discreetly charming, an event waiting to be Blasted open.
Performer: Corinne Jaber.
Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi.