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Review: Goats, at Royal Court Theatre

Liwaa Yazji’s play goes behind the frontline in tragically moving play about life in a Syrian village that’s a microcosm of the whole country

07 December, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Amir El-Masry in Goats. PHOTO: JOHAN PERSSON

TELEVISION news presents horrifying pictures of the war in Syria and tragic refugee stories, but what is it like away from the frontline in Assad’s Syria?

Liwaa Yazji’s play is fiction, but she says she has based it on fact – including the award by one village of a goat for each family member lost fighting in Assad’s army.

Her play opens with a mass funeral: flag-draped coffins, a man’s photo set on each of them, villagers lining up for a ceremony, being filmed for television, and party official Abu al-Tayyib announcing his village’s pride that its men gave their lives as patriotic martyrs.

But there is one grieving father who questions the official line, schoolteacher Abu Firas. He wants to see his son’s body.

This is a play about fake truth. Amer Hlehel’s politician seems the villain but he’s a realist. “Has anyone ever told the truth?” he asks, “Does anyone even need it?” Carlos Chahine’s teacher wants the real thing. The conflict is between them. They and the village are a microcosm for a whole country.

Grieving villagers may read state-prepared statements to the camera but, as the call-up age is lowered from 18 to 16, there are more beginning to wonder what they should believe, especially after one soldier returns. Those phone calls from men now dead saying they have captured a terrorist, what actually was happening? Will the gift of a goat keep people compliant?

The live goats are lovely; they roam the stage as compliant as the villagers, a constant reminder of what value the state puts on ordinary lives.

Goats is sometimes confusing but acted with intense feeling, especially by Amir El-Masry as the returning soldier and Souad Faress as his mother.

There seems to be quite a lot of the published script that hasn’t transferred to the stage, but what we get is a harrowing indictment that is tragically moving.

UNTIL DECEMBER 30
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