The smell of cumin, allspice, frying onions and cooking meat infuses Amir Nizar Zuabi’s production of his own play, written after he and performer Corinne Jaber visited refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan and met people living with the effects of the Syrian civil war. As Jaber narrates a story of love across war-torn countries in the Middle East she cooks kubah and mixes the sadness, violence and desolation of her tale into the little fried Syrian treats.
Her character in this short monologue is an unnamed, distracted woman making a journey from Paris to find her Syrian lover, Ashraf. Part of the resistance, and separated from his wife and daughters, Ashraf abruptly leaves France one day to return to his homeland. Jaber’s half-Syrian, half-German narrator is compelled to go after him armed only with the name of a place he may be. It’s a journey prompted by love, but really this is a search for her roots.
She tracks Ashraf across a broken, scarred and burning landscape, meeting ordinary people – farmers, journalists, lawyers – who have all experienced horrors. As Jaber speaks, she cooks in a working kitchen, producing evocative and intense smells, which heighten a sense of otherness, but also contrast her violent descriptions with a seductive, tantalising prospect of dinner.
Nizar Zuabi’s script is poetic in its descriptions (‘Some houses are so full of holes… they look like lace’) and occasionally we are jolted into the violent reality of what is happening. But mostly it is hard to fully connect with this journey: the many views feel fractured, like diluted subplots to the main story of Jaber’s slightly bewildering search for a man she doesn’t really know.
It’s not a tale lightly told, but we’re left on its edges, looking in.
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