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Queens of Syria - Glasgow Film Festival

Saturday 28 February 2015, by Nisha Ramayya

Photo credit: Lynn Alleva Lilley

Queens of Syria documents the first stage of the ongoing Syrian Trojan Women project, which began in Amman, Jordan, late 2013 (www.syriatrojanwomen.org). Through a combination of drama therapy and revisionist mythology, a team of theatre professionals work with a group of displaced Syrian women to develop a production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. This tragedy recounts the consequences of the Trojan War for the women of Troy, focussing on four characters in particular: Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, and Helen. Their homes are in flames, their lovers slain, their children lost. The women themselves are conquered, their fates in the hands of the men who have claimed them. Euripides imagines the women as they prepare for marriage, slavery, and death. As classicist Gilbert Murray notes, the play has been condemned for being too harrowing, although the strength of the characters may provide solace: ‘The only movement of the drama is a gradual extinguishing of all the familiar lights of human life, with, perhaps, at the end, a suggestion that in the utterness of night, when all fears of a possible worse thing are passed, there is in some sense peace and even glory.’ The ending of the Syrian women’s production of The Trojan Women is not shown, but the project itself does not conclude with the documentary; the production has been invited to tour internationally, and a new theatre production, an audio drama series, and a feature film are in development.

Queens of Syria indicates the tensions that might exist between poetry and myth, drama and documentary, realism and romance, without attempting to analyse or simplify the lived experiences of the Syrian women. During a drama therapy session, the women are encouraged to map their respective journeys on flip-chart paper: write ‘home’ at the top of the page, draw circles around the things you left behind, draw arrows between each point of your ongoing exile. Sheets of paper fill with shapes and movements, lists of imaginable and unimaginable loss run off each page: personal belongings, loved ones, places, certainties, memories, aspirations. One woman asks how she can dream when she sleeps on a mattress in unfamiliar surroundings. She and her husband explain that they spent years building a home for their family, a home they cannot return to, a home they will never enjoy as they imagined they would. Write ‘dream’ at the top of the page, draw circles around the phantoms that remain.

The Greek herald Talthybius warns the Trojan women that ‘Each hath her own. Ye go not in one herd.’ Queens of Syria reflects on a situation that is shared and irreducible to a single narrative. Every week the number of women participating in the project decreases, from over 60 to under 25. Reasons for leaving the project differ, but a sense of fear dominates: fear of forgetting lines, fear of being on stage, fear that faces and names will be revealed, fear that husbands will disapprove, fear of political consequences. The documentary observes the varying practices of self-sacrifice and self-protection within and without the parameters of the performance. Murray describes The Trojan Women as ‘something more than art’: ‘It is also a prophecy, a bearing of witness.’ Hecuba cries: ‘O hear her! She must never die unheard!’ Queens of Syria presents an opportunity to pay attention, to listen, and to record cultural memory and personal experience, demonstrating the interrelated necessities of preservation and reimagining.

Dir. Yasmin Fedda, 2014

Bibliography

Murray, Gilbert, The Trojan Women of Euripides (Project Gutenberg, 2011) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/35171/35171-h/35171-h.htm

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