Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Theatre review: Oh My Sweet Land

Conceived and performed by Syrian-German actress Corinne Jaber, and written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi, Oh My Sweet Land looks for an original way to present the story of Syria as seen by its refugees. The scene is Jaber's kitchen, where she chops onions, pummels cuts of meat and throws in spices to make a traditional Syrian dish that she first remembers her grandmother cooking. But the association it now holds for her is more recent, of the man she once cooked Kibbeh for: For a few months in Paris she had an affair with a refugee who was working to help others flee the country as well. When he leaves in the night she realises he's gone back to find his wife and daughter and, feeling the need to see him one last time and know he's all right, she sets off after him.

This starts her journey through the Middle East, to various countries persecuted Syrians have fled to. There's many dead ends in her search, but each one presents her with someone else's story of the harships they escaped.

So Oh My Sweet Land is, in one respect, a collection of harrowing encounters, including that of a local TV star whose participation in a protest march sees him locked up, and who may have only escaped with his life after making a personal connection with his torturer over his taste in shoes. Jaber's performance has a matter-of-factness to it that keeps the distance of someone who grew up outside the country but feels a helpless kind of pain at what is done there. It's powerful in an understated way.

Oh My Sweet Land by Corinne Jaber and Amir Nazir Zuabi is booking until the 3rd of May at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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