In May 2011, The Guardian described Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, the writer behind the blog Gay Girl in Damascus, ‘an unlikely hero of revolt.’
Within a month, she had reportedly been kidnapped by three armed men. Except she never really existed. Her blog was written 2,500 miles away, in Edinburgh, by a married, middle-aged American called Tom MacMaster.
Omar El-Khairy’s semi-verbatim play unpicks the ethical ramifications of all this with flashes of searing intelligence. Would the blog have gained notoriety without its titillating style? How big can a little white lie grow before it does damage? Can social networks really force social change or are they too prone to manipulation?
As a piece of theatre, however, it’s all a bit shambolic. Despite Florence McHugh’s classy design, the agitprop style – always telling, never showing – leaves ‘Sour Lips’ lumpen and flat, stuck in a realm of ideas, not of narrative.
In attempting to preserve ambiguity – Simon Darwen is suavely enigmatic as MacMaster – El-Khairy forgets to give us the basics and for every incisive argument, there’s another that tips into academic jargon (technical fundamentalism, anyone?)
Essentially, just like MacMaster himself, El-Khairy and director Carissa Hope Lynch are guilty of trying too hard – ‘Sour Lips’ fascinates and frustrates in equal measure. Matt Trueman
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