Scorched, Old Vic Tunnels, London
Thursday 09 September 2010
Like siblings of Oedipus, the Lebanese twins Janine and Simon – she's a maths teacher, he's a boxer – set out to discover the truth of their own origins, and the story of their dead mother, Nawal, in the aftermath of civil war and a criminal trial.
For the Canada-based Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad, born seven years before the war broke out in 1975, and a fugitive with his parents, this play must also constitute a way of confronting the horrors and the tragedy of massacres, enforced separation, an inhumane militia and the refugee camps in the south of the country.
Patricia Benecke's production in the dank and atmospheric setting of brick tunnels under Waterloo Station – the rumble of the trains above rolls into a volley of machine-gun fire – has trouble joining up the dots.
It's a bumpy ride in the first act, with too much pointless explanation, and a less-than-hilarious solicitor who discharges his legal duty with a garnish of misfired malapropisms. But the drama gathers density, and the choric spate of revelations is both shocking and absorbing.
This is mainly due to the haunting performance of Jennie Stoller as Nawal, bathing her experience in a wash of anger and sadness; her younger selves (Jennifer Kidd and Caroline Loncq) represent the star-crossed lover of her youth and the avenging rape victim of her middle-age. Her story spears to the heart of political corruption.
The twins are played with fervour by Richard Simons and Sirine Saba, and there are clever, quick-change contributions from Stephen Finegold and Christopher Patrick Nolan as soldiers and shepherds. You do get a real sense of a country in turmoil, and a feeling that Nawal's story is also a matter of local mythology. At a rock by the white trees, you can still hear the laughter of a young girl and her refugee lover.
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