In an uprising that everyone thought would present hope for the Syrian people, the conflict that emerged has proved to be the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.
Last night saw the debut of Spring Reign, a brave and insightful piece of theatre into the plight of the everyday Syrian since the Arab Spring.
It tells the story of Aleppo-based couple Salah and Aisha, whose lives have been upturned as a result of the conflict, and who are coming to terms with their city – ‘the oldest city in the world’ – being lost to ‘the dog’ Assad.
It shares their generosity and humanity in the face of a distinct lack of both, as they willingly accept two Westerners – a photojournalist and an English teacher – into their home in the face of grave danger.
Last night’s performance had an extraordinary feeling of community about it. I appeared to be the only audience member who didn’t know someone else there, and the sheer number of Syrians watching the play was testament to its accuracy.
SENSITIVELY DOCUMENTED: Above, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with the Syrian Army in central Aleppo (© Abdullatif Anis, with thanks)
Trivialising the conflict could have been easily done – especially coming from a Western viewpoint – but English director Benedict Power sensitively documented the events of 2011 to the praise of Manchester’s Syrian community at last night’s performance.
It was a two-year piece of work, and it shows.
Personal stories were collected from the refugee community in Manchester, many of whom had stories to share of families displaced, missing, trapped or dead.
Testimonies from journalists and photographers working inside the conflicted nation were collated, along with the guidance of aid workers, volunteers, doctors, lawyers, peace activists, politicians and academics.
EMOTIONAL CONFLICT: In the play, English photojournalist Mark visits refugee camps like this one in Aleppo (© IHH, with thanks)
Salah (Marlon Soloman) gave a powerful exhibition of the patriotism and unwavering hope of the ordinary Syrian man; tentatively alternating between serving as a role model, a husband, a friend and a ‘brother’ to the Western photojournalist.
His wife, Aisha (Rhian McLean) put on a charming depiction of an empowered Syrian female, whose love for her husband conflicts with her love for her country in her objections against him joining the rebel cause.
Claire (Sophia Hatfield), the English teacher who seeks refuge with the couple after losing her fiancé, delivers a powerful performance of a Western woman trapped between wanting to help but instead feeling like a hindrance.
And Mark (Garth Williams), the resolute and headstrong English photojournalist, whose work brought him to Syria and whose work will ultimately keep him in Syria. It shows a man in emotional conflict from the very nature of working in conflict.
TRAPPED BETWEEN WANTING TO HELP: Claire (Sophia Hatfield) shows an English woman in turmoil as she faces the option of returning home (© Khieng Ly, with thanks)
The point of the play wasn’t to provide a little light entertainment for a Tuesday evening, but to offer a platform for people who may not know much about the situation in Syria to be connected and informed with others who want and need their support.
As Benedict said at the end: “It’s the little things we can do. I felt I was in a position to make a play. Not everybody’s going to do that – but you can not look away.”
The final performance of Spring Reign takes place tonight at 8pm at The Lowry. Tickets, priced at £12, are available here.
Top image courtesy of Khieng Ly, with thanks