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Theatre review: Oh My Sweet Land

Oh My Sweet Land is a play set in a kitchen that explores the Syrian revolution turned civil war through the hour long narration of Syrian refugees' stories via the passionate yet name-less half German, half Syrian woman, who is busy making the traditional Syrian dish of Kubah while informing the audience how she met all these refugees and become aware of their plight.


Palestinian theatre-maker Amir Nizar Zuabi directs the one-woman show, conceived and performed by Syrian-German actress Corinne Jaber, who tells us how in a Parisian street she met and had an affair with the married Syrian man, Ashraf. He had fled Syria in fear of the security and intelligence force but with events deteriorating back home Ashraf opts to return and be near his people than watch from a distance. As Ashraf's news is lost the urge to travel and find him emerge within the play's narrator who goes in search of her lost partner only to encounter thousands of refugees wanting to share their stories and their losses; be it their homes, family members, friends, body organ/limbs or simply Syria the country lost in civil war.

The play is full of hidden symbolism that aims to bring the political situation in Syria to the London theatre, Zubai's choice of set design almost suggests that their concern or focus are the ordinary people of Syria, they are the 'meat' in the fridge that is getting cooked and shaped to the way the 'chef' choses the kubah, if it does not turn out like it was intended or is burnt then it is 'thrown away' into the rubbish bin, because there is plenty more meat in the fridge. At one point you feel that the fate of a nation is 'cooked' up by outside force.

The smell of the chopped onions or simmering meat transforms the audience to a simpler world something that the narration failed to do fully. Also, very few, if any, actors can manage a whole show by themselves, Jaber's performance was exceptional as her emotional journey slowly develops but 35 minutes into the play my attention started to shift away and all I was be left with is the smell of kubah and the question of what will happen to the food that is left on stage?

Jaber's own transformation is one of the more positive aspects of the play, as we observe her gradual connection with Syria, a place she had no real longing towards apart from being a link to the memory of her grandmother. This changes to passion through her relationship with Ashraf and as she travels to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria it turns to love and remorse to a revolution that was hijacked by outsiders.

The theatre was half full and, as the play ended, one lady in the audience commented that this "play deserves more of an audience", but the ideas performed are challenging and might not be appreciated by the masses.

Zubai and Jaber's Oh My Sweet Land is an ambitious project that not only brings a new form of war reporting but gives a voice to the millions of scattered refugees and poses the difficult notions that refugees hold, "one day we will forgive one another and maybe God will forgive us".

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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