thu 18/10/2018

Oh My Sweet Land, Young Vic Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Oh My Sweet Land, Young Vic Theatre

Oh My Sweet Land, Young Vic Theatre

Politics and cooking coalesce in Syrian-themed solo show

Going it alone: Corinne Jaber in writer-director Amir Nizar Zuabi's solo play Simon Annand

Written and directed by the ever-varied Amir Nizar Zuabi, Oh My Sweet Land tells the story of a German-Syrian woman living in Paris and struggling with her connection to the raging civil war abroad. Zuabi, the Palestinian theatre-maker who gave us 2012's divisive treatment of the story of Abraham in The Beloved and the RSC's Middle East-inspired take on The Comedy of Errors, now looks at similar themes of love, loss and reunion, albeit with a very different tone. 

Performed by Corinne Jaber who, like her character, is German-Syrian but based in France, Oh My Sweet Land couples storytelling with cooking a she prepares kubbeh, the traditional Syrian meat and bulgar wheat snack in her Parisian kitchen. "Wheat, meat, heat, Syria," she begins, as she chops, fries, stirs and grinds her ingredients on a simple but welcoming set. She cooks for the most part with great concentration and appreciation - even romance - and often with mesmerising precision. While the onions sweat, the scent wafting through the audience, she kneads dough and slaps around chunks of meat, all the while recounting her journey from Lebanon through Syria and eventually to Jordan. Having set out to reunite with her Syrian activist lover, she returns laden with unforgettable stories of that country's refugees - and an indomitable need to make kubbeh day in, day out. (Those wanting to see a finished meal, by the way, forget it: the show gives you the process, not the result.) 

Corinne Jaber in Oh My Sweet LandTraveling through towns and refugee camps, she meets a reporter who has faked his own death, mothers who have fled with their children, and an actor who finds himself a bloodied, beaten prisoner - the stories filled with resilience and horror, in turn. But while Jaber is a captivating storyteller, she chooses not to morph from one character to the other, leaving the theatricality of the piece resting rather too much on the cooking and what it comes to represent (oil boiling over, for instance, as an image of societal unrest etc). Stories spill from her kitchen organically, but as the accounts add up, the cacophony of voices is absorbed into the speaker's own, resulting in a missed opportunity to bring a cross-section of people home for the audience. 

When it comes to the politics of war, Zuabi tells it from the ground up with little critique. Instead, he has Jaber eloquently convey the image of a revolution hijacked by multiple forces. But the focus here is on identity politics as much as war. Jaber is drawn to the very Syrian cafés in Paris that make her feel guilty, due very much to the distance she feels from a country and culture to which she is inextricably linked. Through her, we are aware of the psychic toll exacted by diaspora communities whose solidarity with - and connection to - the lands of their heritage come to the fore in times of conflict.

Zuabi's writing turns Parisian streets into the cobbled, centuries-old lanes of Damascus, and Jaber's appreciation for her father's Syrian mannerisms - utterly lost on the Germans of her home town - jumps out like an unexpected filial hug. For all the effective physical metaphors in the play (with the meat coming to represent bodies and people and so on), that sense of being suspended between cultures is where Oh My Sweet Land really cooks.  

The writing turns Parisian streets into the cobbled, centuries-old lanes of Damascus

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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