In the words of Faha, a radio DJ from Zabadani, in Zoe Lafferty’s verbatim play The Fear of Breathing, the people in Syria seek to “climb desperately… to come out from [their] situation”; a situation that is the culmination of their fight for freedom. Conveyed through real life accounts collated from interviews collected by Ruth Sherlock, Paul Wood and Lafferty, it took a revolution for us to notice the unrest in Syria, to force us to realise how bad things really are, but the uprising is the result of many years of suppression and pain – it is the peak of unrest and not the beginning of it.
This notion of underlying distress created from decades of suppression and the inability to freely express oneself in society – the build up to a revolution – really struck me. The media focus on events, on war and death, fighting and protesting, but tragedy is also found within the lives of these people and in the pain that they have had to endure in the years leading up to this point – the terrible world that they inhabited before being able to take a stand.
I felt guilty reflecting on how this production related to Western society, and to my own life, because I know that no pain I have experienced can ever compare to the pain and torment of those suffering in Syria right now, but I found myself thinking a lot about how long people undergo pain in our own society before reaching out for help, before they find the courage to fight for freedom from a life that they no longer wish to lead. I also thought about those who suffer silently and will not reach out or fight. Why does it always take a disaster to provoke a reaction? This is when it is too late, when things are out of control and unmanageable. We need to seek to solve problems when they are just beginning.
Whilst watching London Road at The National this weekend, this notion was also brought to light. This verbatim musical from Alecky Blythe centres on the murders that happened in Ipswich in 2006, highlighting that it was these tragic events that caused people to notice how bad the situation was in this area. The women who were trapped in a life of prostitution and violence were given help eventually but it took the murder of five women “for them [the police] to help”.
The technique of verbatim has found the human voice that lurks beneath these events and it has enabled me to find a way to relate to the people that were interviewed on a personal level. When I read about the Syrian revolution in the newspaper, I hold my emotions back and I am numb to the words – they are not real – but I could not do that during The Fear of Breathing because I was part of this experience too. This production has managed to do what great theatre does – it urges us to take a step back from our lives and look at global issues from a different standpoint. It found a way to draw out the human voice that is beneath the Syrian uprising, the voice that stares you in the face and makes you reach down inside yourself to find your own connection to it, asking you to “imagine that what is happening in Syria, is happening in London”; happening to you, and to those around you.
Image credit: Finborough Theatre.