Review: A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Dear Glasgow, Traverse Theatre

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One Day in Spring is a season of new work from the Arabic world, hosted by Òran Mór.

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Dear Glasgow is the season’s equivalent of The Vagina Monologues, a series of letters written by prominent Arabic authors about their experiences of the events currently taking place in their own countries and read aloud by Scottish writers.

What is not made clear is whether the Arabic authors have been translated into English or have written these letters in English themselves. There is certainly a straightforwardness to the prose that one wouldn’t expect of an author writing in a second language, there are no unexpected turns of phrase or ideas that transcend translation.

In many ways it strips the writers of a sense of uniqueness, a uniqueness that one supposes the readers of the work are supposed to inject. Yet asking Scottish writers to read the works falls flat. The writers, of course, have a great deal of experience in reading aloud and of promoting their own works, yet lack the dramatic flare and presentation to convey the quite remarkable elements of the Arabic writers’ narratives.

Samar Yazbek’s account of Silent Prudence and the four-year-old boy he encounters at a Syrian protest is a profound and touching piece that really should have been allowed to develop and breathe in the hands of an experienced actor. Likewise, Palestinian novelist Adania Shibili’s account of the caper tree in her parents’ garden needs more direction to tease out the original author’s intent. Part of the problem is that while the Arabic authors remain the same each day, the Scottish readers keep changing and thus they don’t really have the time to appreciate the nuances of the works they’re reading.

The use of a screen projecting daily scenes of the Middle East on to the wall behind the readers did much to set a tone for the readings but the imagery often seemed dislocated from the subject matter. The cosy picture of a woman walking down a palm laden boulevard is at odds with the eye-witness accounts of government brutality, beatings and kidnappings by some of the authors.

Perhaps in time we will be celebrating one day in a balmy Arab summer where such pictures really do have a place. For now, however, these Arabic authors’ words fit perfectly with the scenes we see every time we switch on the news.