There are real goats on stage for Liwaa Yazji’s new play. Set in a Syrian village at war, the animals are given as compensation to families whose sons are said to have been martyred fighting. It’s a brilliantly repulsive idea. But bringing the animals on to the stage is misguided – they prove too distracting, creating a lack of focus indicative of a play overwhelmed by its subject matter.
Goats is sparse on specifics. Perhaps, as a Syrian documentary maker and poet, Yazji takes too much knowledge for granted from a UK audience. And, while the depiction of paranoia and the dissemination of propaganda are both effective, if the intention is for the play to serve as a parable, it is clumsy and too long.
Hamish Pirie’s direction encourages a poetic reading. There are many inventive touches and some strong imagery. But there are also too many technical shortcomings, with performances that are halting and stilted, a clumsy tackling of satire in the script and a lack of marshalling both of the text and the players that hinders comprehension.
There are some strong moments. Amir El-Masry plays returning soldier Adnan in compelling fashion. A confrontation with his family is riveting and brings out a strong performance from Souad Faress as his mother. A subsequent encounter with a grieving father, the local school teacher, Abu Firas, takes us to the kernel of a powerful plot point. These scenes are pinpointed, intimate and tense. But when the view is widened, the play falters.
Questioning the complicity of the wider society in the war needs far more exploration. Pinning so much on the character of Abu Firas makes sense, but the role isn’t fleshed out and the burden proves too much for Carlos Chahine, who struggles with the part. Similarly, the war’s effect on four youths is too cursory – it could be a play of its own. Too many nonsensical moments and untied ends result, making Goats too messy to be moving or enlightening.
Until 30 December 2017
Photo by Johan Persson