The Trojans @ Platform

A new adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women performed by Syrian Refugees

Directed by Victoria Beesley

 

Adapted by Mariem Omari, with Alaa Saloum and Sanaa Al Froukh

including original writing by the cast

8th & 9th February for two days only

at Platform Theatre, The Bridge, Easterhouse, Glasgow.

Evening Performance 7pm on the 8th February – Matinee 2pm, 9th February.

 

A brand new, haunting and uplifting  adaptation of Euripides’ great anti-war tragedy, written and acted by a cast of Syrian refugees living in Glasgow, performed in Arabic (with surtitles) and English. This extraordinary production is brought to you by the award-winning director Victoria Beesley and the originating producers of the highly acclaimed Queens of Syria (Young Vic 2016) and Syria: The Trojan Women (NCC Amman, 2013), supported by  Glasgow City Council.

 

The Trojans transcends countries and time, with a cast who have known the horror of war bringing their own experiences of exile and loss into Euripides’ shocking 2,500 year old play; they also tell of the bitter-sweetness of building new lives in Scotland.

 

This play is the culmination of nine months of drama workshops in Glasgow’s Platform Theatre. The aim is to build links between Syrians newly arrived in Scotland and local communities; to allow Syrians who have found a haven in Scotland to work through their depression, isolation and trauma. We are also creating a stunning new piece of theatre which will bring home to the audience the reality of what it means to flee war, and arrive in a strange land.

Sanaa and her daughter in the Necropolis 3

Response to questions from producers Charlotte Eager from The Trojan Women project which was set up by Charlotte and her husband William Stirling in Jordan in 2013.

 

1)    I am interested in the selection of a Greek tragedy as the script for this project. What is it that attracted you to the Greek tragedy format, and this play in particular?

 

We chose the Trojan Women because it is about refugees. In our experience what makes this sort of drama project work, both in terms of it being cathartic for the participants and also creating as powerful as possible a piece of art, is that it should reflect the participants own experiences. That way, the cast can tell the stories of what has happened to them, and weave them into the text of the play. And when they are on stage, part of the power of their performances comes from the fact that they are essentially playing themselves.

 

It helps to choose a good play in the first place.

 

The Greek tragedies that have lasted 2,500 years tend to be incredibly powerful, strong plays that speak of eternal human truths. When Oxfam first asked us to come up with a suitable drama project for Syrian refugees, the Trojan Women sprang out. William I both knew The Trojan Women because we are classicists; in fact, we met on an Ancient Greek course from which William was expelled for trying to break into my dormitory.  But, more importantly, we had both worked in Bosnia shortly after university and had a lot of experience of refugees. I spent the summer of 1992 interviewing refugees in Bosnia – I was the Balkans Correspondent of the Observer. That autumn, I turned on the BBC World Service – there was a production of the Trojan Women. As I listened, I realised I was just hearing the same stories that I had been listening to all summer – murder, rape, exile, devastating loss.

 

The plight of the women and children of Troy, the innocent victims, is so harrowingly shown because Euripides apparently wrote the Trojan Women in 415 BC as an anti-war protest. He was disgusted by the treatment by his home city, Athens, of the neutral island of Melos, the previous year. The Athenians sacked Melos, slaughtered the men and sold the women and children into slavery. He wrote this play for the annual Dionysia drama competition. It was the only year he didn’t win; he came second.

 

 

2)    Is the situation of the Syrian refugees an easy one to relate back to the aftermath of the Trojan War, and are there ways in which it becomes an easy or difficult fit?
Social and historical changes since 1100 BC aside, there are obviously differences between the case of Troy and that of Syria; Syria is in the grip of a civil war, and Troy was destroyed by an alien power: the city was annihilated, the men killed and the women and children sold into slavery.  No-one could ever return. Many of the Syrians we work with hope to return to Syria one day. But quite a few know now, that the Assad regime looks secure, their chances of returning in the near future becomes bleak.

 

This is the third time we have produced this play with Syrian refugees, the previous two times were in Jordan and then we toured the UK with our original Jordan-based cast. Then, we only had women in the cast. This time, we have adapted the play to include men as well as women – hence we have changed its name to The Trojans, because we had a lot of men who wanted to join the project.

 

One of the major differences between Euripides’ play – and our previous versions of the Trojan Women – is that our current cast have hope. The Trojan Women is unrelentingly grim – there is no future for these women but slavery and exile. When we first produced the play in Jordan, in 2013, our Syrian cast were still in shock, in limbo, the war a recent and grievous wound. They could see no future for themselves. When we toured the play in 2016, the same cast were angry that the war was still going on, and their rage gave power to the performance. The current cast have been overwhelmed by the welcome they have received in Glasgow; they have hope now, and they are able to start rebuilding their lives.

 

It is of course apt that Troy is not far from Syria, in modern day Turkey. The Sack of Troy is an Eastern Mediterranean myth and this play, and other Greek Tragedies have been performed for two millennia  in the Greco-Roman theatres of the Middle East – theatres which our Syrian cast are very familiar with. All of the our original cast had heard of Troy. The educated ones knew about Home and the Iliad, the less well-educated, giggled and talked about Brad Pitt.

 

 

3)    How far does this kind of work process help to engage audiences with the challenges faced by refugees – or is it as important for the participants to explore their own experience through the production?

 

The most important thing is that the participants feel happy to be involved; that they find the process cathartic, helpful, and useful. We’ve been running weekly drama workshops for nine months; we provide a hot lunch and a crèche for the participants’ children with structured play. We provide a safe space for them to share their stories and work through their experiences with drama. This is the psycho-social support element of the project. They make new friends and they tell us that the project has given them a new, extended, family and sense of identity. They also help adapt the play, by writing and incorporating their own stories – this is very empowering.  If you are a refugee, you have undergone a hideous experience that someone could make a Hollywood movie about, and it must feel like nobody cares. By working your story into the text of the play and then performing it, you have a chance to tell your story to the world.

 

Which brings us to the audience. In our experience this sort of work really helps engage audiences. It is much easier to absorb anything that comes in a familiar package. In this case an alien story of death, war and exile is brought to you in a format in which you are used to hearing such stories, a play. It somehow reaches out in a way that a news report doesn’t. Also, theatre is such an intimate medium – the audience is sitting ten feet away from the people talking about the terrible things they have suffered. There are no barriers between them. It’s very hard for the audience not to engage under these circumstances. To a certain extent, the theatre audience that comes to these performances in self-selecting however, the performances are obviously very powerful. When we toured the UK with the Young Vic in 2016, our audiences left in tears nearly every night; every night was a standing ovation, each theatre sold out. And the ovations were as much to salute the courage and experiences of the cast as their artistic performances.

The Trojans Sanaa and her daughter

4)     What do you hope that the audience will experience (giving away my critical bias towards outcomes with this question…)?

 

I hope our audience will come away realising that there, but for the Grace of God, go them. That refugees, instead of being a mass of strangers, are people with the same sort of lives, hopes and dreams for the future as the audience. It would be lovely if the audience then tried to go out of their way to make friends with Syrians who have arrived here, and helped them find work. The Syrians are being well looked after, housed, and fed, but they are often lonely. They are also desperate to return to work; living on benefits only exacerbates their loneliness and isolation.

 

 

5)     And does theatre offer a good place for widening conversations about important social issues?

 

Yes it does. Theatre – just like film or books – can explore issues, in a safe and easily consumable way, that are often too frightening, messy or just difficult to access to inspect personally.  It also can provide a platform or a peg to remind people of these issues, and to allow them to be explored in the media. Think of Trainspotting – how many more people read or watched Trainspotting than those who would have read an earnest examination of drug addiction in Westerhailes? But attach Irvine Welsh’s writing, Danny Boyle’s direction and Ewan McGregor’s cheekbones, and suddenly the audience is in millions.

 

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