Time Out says
Actual goats take centre stage in this surreal Syrian war satire by Liwaa Yazji
The perennially edgy Royal Court has a long and noble tradition of staging the least festive shows imaginable at this time of year. And 2017 is no exception, with its main house playing host to a new play from Syrian exile Liwaa Yazji about the civil war in her home country.
But ‘Goats’ has one almighty USP that potentially makes it vaguely chime with the cuddliness of the season: a cast of six adorable goats. They add a lovable layer of dadaist weirdness to Hamish Pirie’s already pretty odd production, quietly munching and pottering and gently disrupting the human drama around them.
Are they strictly necessary? I mean, yes and no. The problem with Yazji’s play is that it crams in so many strands of narrative that the goats often feel peripheral to the story, but get abruptly roped in – sometimes literally – as a heavy-handed concluding metaphor to one plot point or other.
The play is set in a small Syrian village loyal to the government. It begins with the gaudy, stage-managed funeral of a group of local sons, ‘martyred’ in the conflict. Soon thereafter the village becomes a pilot for a state scheme, which compensates families who have lost a son to the tune of one goat.
The little four-legged creatures thus become slightly abstract embodiments of the dead men they’ve replaced. But they feel more effective as a surreal atmospheric device. And that’s where the play is generally strong: Yazji is excellent at conveying the out-and-out bizarreness of everyday life in Syria and its seemingly endless war. The closest it comes to a main story revolves around a quartet of teenage lads, idly waiting for the conflict to either end or engulf them. They smoke, play ‘Call of Duty’, WhatsApp each other... all the things teenage boys everywhere do in our hyperconnected world. But they’re also deluged with government propaganda, and live in a strange, exhausting world of patriotism and carnage. The other side are simply described as ‘terrorists’, the internet is censored, their phone lines are tapped and parents of all the villagers receive devastating mobile phone calls from their sons, just before their deaths.
‘Goats’ is fascinating, but it clops along slowly, its various strands about war-torn village life meandering all over the shop. Some bits are electrifying – notably when Amir El-Masry’s damaged Adnan comes home from war and tears nastily into his family – but it feels like Yazji has tried to pack too much in. Pirie’s garish, treacly production is incredibly atmospheric, but even with the little horned diversions, the lack of pace starts to become a drag.
Nonetheless, it’s a powerful, empathetic, often funny window into a country most of us have little real understanding of. And did I mention there are goats?