Review: The Sky is Safe – Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 22 2017

Three Stars

The latest production from Dogstar Theatre, the Scottish company that created the award-winning The Tailor of Inverness, falls into two distinct parts, the one powerful and engaging, the other less so. Matthew Zajac’s script is built on stories he gathered about the experiences of women fleeing the escalating civil war in Syria. Their names initially appear on a screen at the back of the stage, and by the end of the show we feel as though we know all of them intimately; so versatile and forceful is the performance of Dana Hajaj, the actor who gives voice to these women.

Zajac should have left it at that. Instead he allows the play to fall between two stools, creating a narrative strand in which a wealthy man from Scotland (played by the writer) is enticed by a hustler in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul to meet a young female escort of Syrian origin (Hajaj again).

6. Dogstar The Sky is Safe Dana Hajaj Photo credit Laurence Winram

Pic: Laurence Winram

Their encounter develops, in Ben Harrison’s production, as a mix of financial transaction and a friendship borne of genuine affection and concern. Both harbour secrets that bind them together in ways they could not have anticipated. Yet the relationship between the westerner and the refugee can never be an equal or trusting one.

 

This story might make for a fine piece of drama in its own right were the presentation not so awkward, featuring dialogue that is stiff and crammed with exposition. “Seventy years ago much of Europe was like Syria is today,” mansplains Zajac’s Gordon over a romantic meal at one point.

5. Dogstar The Sky is Safe Dana Hajaj Matthew Zajac Photo credit Laurence Winram

Pic: Laurence Winram

The two-hander peters away towards the end, returning the focus to the show’s more engrossing element: a collection of first-person accounts of political persecution and torture at the hands of the Syrian regime, and of women’s harrowing journeys into exile. Illustrations by Nihad Al Turk, the Syrian artist, provide a vivid backdrop to Hajaj’s performance.

 

Box office: 0131 560 1580, to August 27

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