SYRIA TROJAN WOMEN
Syrian refugee women tell their stories through their adaptation of Euripides Greek tragedy The Trojan Women.
In 2013 Refuge Productions in partnership with Oxfam mounted a new production of Euripides’ great anti war tragedy the Trojan Women in Jordan with a cast of Syrian refugee women displaced by the war in Syria. The production was intended both as a psycho-social support measure for the participants, and as an advocacy tool to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees. The women who participated arrived at the workshops in varying states of suffering from depression, feelings of isolation and PTSD. Without claiming that the production cured these, the Syrian psychologist we employed to monitor the workshops and rehearsals confirmed that the process allowed the women to take back a great measure of self confidence and self respect, as well as finding a new support group through sharing each others’ stories and experiences. In 2013 the refugee crisis engulfing the region as a result of the civil war in Syria was very under-reported internationally. We correctly projected that showing this crisis in a different and dramatically surprising way would have a much wider impact in reporting terms, and as such the play was widely covered by regional and international press both in newsprint and on television.
Euripides wrote The Trojan Women in 415 BC in Athens in the middle of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, as a protest against an Athenian war crime. In the previous year Athens had given the neutral and independent island of Melos an ultimatum, threatening them with destruction if they did not subjugate themselves to the Athenian Empire. In the following diplomatic exchange (the Melian Dialogues) the Melians refused, arguing that it would demean Athens for her to destroy such a tiny state. The Athenians replied that it was in the Melians’ best interests to surrender to the might of a greater power. The Melians chose to fight and were brutally crushed, with the Athenian force slaughtering the adult male population and enslaving the women and children. The historian Alan Ryan described it as “famous as the worst atrocity committed by a usually decent society, but even more as the most famous assertion in history of the rights of unbridled power.” Euripides chose to explore the morality of these actions through the plight of the Trojan Women at the fall of Troy. The men are all dead and they await to hear their fate at the hands of the victorious Greeks.
The play may well be the first to focus on those displaced by war. Though not strictly refugees as they are shortly to be enslaved by the Greeks, the themes the women explore - loss of home, relatives and loved ones, community and status - are the same as suffered by refugees down the ages. Another theme, brutality towards women, is in evidence in the gratuitous rape of Cassandra and the ritual murder of Polyxena.
The power of the play in modern times is the realisation how eternal war is, and how nothing seems to change over the millennia in the appalling effects it has on survivors and refugees. The Syrian women who acted in the play all remarked how closely they identified with the women characters in the play, and how their experiences mirrored their own. Or as one of them put it- “There is a speech by Hecuba, when she looks on Troy for the last time, that makes me cry- because when I was crossing the border into Jordan, my husband said, ‘Look back at Syria for one last time for you may never see it again.’”
Director’s note on the text
We never imagined the adventure that was awaiting us when we started working on the script of the Trojan Women especially as we were working with a group of women who never stood on stage before. In that way work has started: a wholesome journey to explore the play and discover the personalities of the women participating, and to re-discover the theatrical process again. We read the script in various ways, and discussed it with the group; also we chose specific parts and experimented working on them. The surprise was lying in the big intersection with the Greek Script. We tried to explain the script in the moment we are living now and we tried to explain what is happening to us in accordance to the script . Therefore, eventually, we reached to one united vision. The play was a testimony from the Trojan Women about the painful war their city went through, a document coming from a long time ago. We wanted to write a parallel script, which documents the Syrian Women's testimonies of their experience today, their stories, their words, their things, and their memories. Through that, a new, different script was born: a document trying to tell what happened in Syria, with contrasting voices that have not yet been given enough space; the women's voices. Usually men tell the stories of war, but in our story women tell it.
Working with the actresses.
Nanda Mohammad: It was really amazing to observe these little transformations in every woman in this great group. I remember vividly our first day together; they were following my instructions with astonishment, their eyes shining with curiosity. I worked with them on a daily basis over six weeks, doing exercises that professional theatre actors would normally do. I was amazed to see their devotion to do them skilfully even though this is their first experience in theatre. They are unique, and for me this experience was enriching on both a human and artistic level.
Bissane Al Charif : This project is unlike any other interactive theatre project I have done before. Its particularity lies in the stories and experiences each of these women shared with us. These ladies have been courageous, full of energy, and passionate about the project. They have loved this process and contributed various great ideas. They have made huge progress during this month that we worked together. They shared with us their suffering as each one of them has gone through significant pain during these last three years. Everything we’ve achieved during these 6 weeks was completely because of their participation in making decisions about every detail of the work. This is what interactive theatre is all about. They even had a say when it came to the visual aspects of the performance such as the set design and the costumes. During the workshops we gave them exercises to help develop their skills in this area. They embraced these assignments absolutely and have succeeded in the task set to them, indeed.
Directed by: Omar Abusaada / Actors’ Trainer: Nanda Mohammad / Scenographer: Bissane Al Charif / Translated by: Marie Elias / The Trojan Women: Anwar, Reem, Manar, Khalwala, Qamar Alomar, Sua'ad Al Saied, Ghaydaa HIjazi, Maha Yousef, Nasreen, Fatin Abed Alkareem, Noor Alhuda, Haneen, Nadin, Riham Al Hakeem , Nahid, Nada, Maysaa, Maysoun Ibrahim, Sawasan, Dua'a, Fatima, Diana, Raneem, Rama / Lighting: Ramzi / Producers: Charlotte Eagar, William Stirling, Itab Azzam, Hal Scardino, Georgina Paget / Childcare: Rawan, Lamis, Loubna
Without the support and funding from the following people and organisations, this play would not have been possible. Thank you.
Oxfam / Prospero World Charitable Trust / Asfari Foundation / Prism The Gift Fund / H. E. Ghassan I. Shaker/ Golden Bottle Fund / John Hogg Charitable Trust / Geneva Global
With thanks to :Sawasan Asfari, Bruno Paulson, Hugh Sloan, George Robinson, Nick Hornby, Luke Ding, Susie Sainsbury, Nick and Jane Ferguson, William Franks, Laura Godsal, Patrick Fauchier, Paul McGuinness, Stephanie Young Tyrer, Jonathon Levy, Marjorie Scardino, Eleanor Warrington, Lysbeth Holdway, Sita Schutt, Janine Di Giovanni, Dr Rana Kabbani, Camillla Jelbart Moss, Frontline Club, Annemarie Jacir, Ossama Bawardi, Toleen Touk, Peter Kessler, Karl Schembri, Anna-Louisa Psarras, Elizabeth Forrester