Review – Damascus-Aleppo

May 15 2012 | By More


Traverse Theatre

Umar Ahmed (Manar) and Christopher Simon (Ayman) in Damascus-Aleppo. Photo: Play, Pie and a Pint

Umar Ahmed (Manar) and Christopher Simon (Ayman) in Damascus-Aleppo. Photo: Play, Pie and a Pint

Review by Thom Dibdin

Lunchtime theatre returns to the Traverse with a production of such rich complexity that it is not so much fit to be accompanied by a pie and a pint but a three course meal and an after-dinner brandy.

David Greig, the curator of the current Play, Pie and a Pint season, whet the appetite for middle eastern theatre with the brilliantly inventive Dear Glasgow – a collection of letters to the people of Glasgow from Middle Eastern writers – a fortnight past.

Delivered by Scottish writers – including somewhat confusingly on the day I saw it the Scotsman‘s chief critic Joyce MacMillan (who acquitted herself most admirably) – Dear Glasgow gave a taste of what life is like in modern Egypt, Syria and Palestine.

It is a world which confounds expectations. A world where the oppressiveness of the state – the old order in Egypt, the current order in Syria or the religious intolerance of Israel and Palestine – might try to reduce the humanity of its citizens, but which just makes that humanity shine even brighter from out of the darkness.

So, to Damascus-Aleppo, by Syrian playwright Abdullah Al Kafri, which won the Egyptian Mohammad Taymore prize for theatrical creativity in 2009. Here Christopher Simon plays Ayman, a psychiatrist who specialises in working with gay men.

Among Ayman’s current clients is Haitham (Nicholas Karimi), a businessman who is confounded by his feelings for the young men who come to work on his house. He drives the three hour journey from his home in Aleppo up to Damascus every week – a city which he and Ayman can agree isn’t as it was.

Not all will be as it seems…

But Ayman’s own feelings are confounded too. By the disappearance of his 23 year-old son who, much to his wife Malak’s (Selina Boyack) horror, he has thrown out of their house. Even Malak, who is gently going round the bend with worry, can see that there must be more to Ayman’s actions than disgust at their son’s  university results.

On one level, this appears to be following an over-predictable route. Haitham’s young man might be a labourer, doing a bit of carpentry on the side, but he has a middle-class background and was recently thrown out by his father.

Director Philip Howard, returning to the Traverse where he was Artistic Director from 1996 until 2007, only adds to that feeling of the predictable by giving the production a slightly mannered, even over-stilted feel. At times it is as if the characters are speaking in quotes, that the action were one step removed from itself.

Not all will be as it seems, of course. And as the little glimpses of life in Syria add up, the real tension that emerges is not so much between those of different sexualities, but between the old and the new. A tension in the facade of a middle-class life in which there is no real hiding place. A tension in which, ironically, being gay might be one of the most conservative paths.

A fascinating and thought-provoking production which, for this week only, includes two evening performances – on Thursday and Friday at 7pm – but no Saturday performance.

Run ends Friday 18 May 2012
Running time 50 mins.
Shows daily 1pm (and 7pm, Thurs/Fri)
Traverse website:


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