The Fear of Breathing

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The Fear of Breathing
© Richard Davenport

The Finborough is keeping time with real life in this harrowing verbatim piece, knitted together from secret interviews conducted in Syria by journalists Paul Wood and Ruth Sherlock and director Zoe Lafferty.

A clamour of voices – including a hotel owner, a radio DJ, a student activist and members of the Free Syrian Army – speak of hope turned to pain, loss and anger as Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime bombs the promise of the Arab Spring into blood-stained dust.

The narrative traces familiar contours, such as the activists' praise for the 'Facebook revolution'. Jerky camera-phone footage posted to social media sites in defiance of state reportage has become damning testimony in its own right. From this perspective, the play doesn't tell us anything new.

But forget that, the clunkily symbolic set, and a first half that takes a while to get going. Hearing the words of victims and freedom fighters spoken by a talented, impassioned cast in the intimate space of the Finborough is the point.

It's an electrifying, visceral experience.A photographer tells of a boy dragging the remains of his legs across steel and dirt to escape snipers; a bereaved mother dreams of shooting Assad. The horror and tragedy of recent events are exposed like fresh wounds and relived before us as a searing account of what's been lost.

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This is perhaps the most powerful play I have seen, largely due to the knowledge that every word spoken is from someone actually living these unbelievable, shocking experiences. The performance from the actors is inspiring - the frequent eye contact from them as they describe their experiences is very effective. I found it quite hard to contain feelings of sadness and outrage - a real eye-opener.