The Old Vic Tunnels lend themselves gloriously as a venue to this engaging, professionally executed if, at times, predictable first UK performance of Wajdi Mouawad's Scorched.
Translated from the French original (Incendie) this Dialogue and Old Vic co-production revisits some very common themes current in contemporary journalism and debate – the plight of women, the abuse of children, the ridiculousness of war [made even worse when the battle is between peoples in the same land] and the pain of growing up.
Philip Larkin's "They fuck you up" poem about they way our parents unwittingly affect us bobbed about in my mind during an evening of fast moving twist and turns. But Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Sons is also partly revisited, in Lebanon rather than Afghanistan, not least in the absolutely abominable and shocking way in which women and children are treated.
I won't spoil the end of this play for you, but there is a "turn up" and the whole cast are so good that they and I (along with most of the house) ended up in tears.
Couched in mathematical symbolism of one of the twins career as a PhD maths student – there is a final cruel twist which acts as a catalyst to a transformation in her twin brother Simon. He suddenly becomes a man, shedding the ignorance of much of his genetic frustration.
"Childhood is like a knife stuck in your throat. Pulling is out is not easy". This is a refrain which Mouawad constantly returns to – all based, no doubt, on the atrocities he witnessed as a young boy in war torn Lebanon.
The twins' mother has died and the play is basically about their journey to find out more about her. In so doing, they discover the reality of themselves.
The acting is superb, the design faultless and the special affects work throughout the night. But there are moments when Mouawad's original French script is repetitive perhaps through translation and his use of "side panel solliquies" just a little bit twee.
There is certainly little that is twee about the brutality, horror and violence of the 20th century Middle East. "Fifteen years old and it's practically over for you," Grandma laments to her grand daughter whose child, 'out of wed lock', has been taken away for fear of village reprisals.
Babies were drowned or thrown against the wall. Girls and boys were killed without warning. The key to the night is in realising ultimately that the children of "the woman who sings" come from rape and horror – but I will say no more. Go and see it.
As Jennie Stoller – whose brilliant final oration encapsulates a glimmer of hope through horror for Nawal who had endured perhaps more than any human being should be expected to – says: "Every person is responsible. That makes us responsible for each other."
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