Skype meets theatre in Syria twist on Romeo and Juliet

AFP , Monday 6 Apr 2015

(Photo: Reuters)

Mixing traditional theatre with modern technology, a new Syrian version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is offering a unique twist on the classic love story.

Romeo is a young Syrian refugee in Jordan, and his beloved is trapped in the region of Homs -- their only means of communication through Skype and other online tools.

Playing out on the rooftop of a makeshift hospital for Syrian refugees in the Jordanian capital Amman, the new production aims to highlight the plight of those who have escaped Syria's devastating civil war -- and those left behind.

"We wanted, through this unique work, to draw attention to the areas under siege by the regime in Syria after the failure of humanitarian organisations to send food, water and medicine there," said the play's director, acclaimed Syrian actor Nawar Bulbul.

"We also wanted to send a message to the world that the besieged people are not terrorists but children threatened by shelling, death and destruction."

The play's Romeo is Ibrahim, a 12-year-old who lost his mother and three of his siblings in regime shelling of Damascus last year.

Three operations to his right leg saved it from amputation, but the road to recovery is long and he requires two more operations.

Its Juliet is a 14-year-old girl cut off from help and her extended family -- one of what the UN says is some 440,000 civilians trapped in Syrian conflict zones without access to relief efforts.

Juliet's identity and exact location are kept secret, and she wears a veil throughout the performance.

As the audience watches, their love story unfolds with Ibrahim sitting before a video feed projected on a white canvas.

The real world can intrude, with Internet and electricity outages in Homs sometimes interrupting the show.

At one performance, spectators had to wait an hour before the feed of Juliet's balcony appeared for Romeo to declare his love.

Bulbul said he believes his play is the first to use Skype in such a way. He has rewritten the work substantially to remove violence and focus instead on the love story.

It follows a similar project last year that saw Bulbul produce "King Lear" with child actors for his "Shakespeare in Zaatari" project at the Zaatari camp north of Amman, where some 83,000 Syrian refugees live.

He said his plays emphasise the anxiety and pain children face when torn away from their homes, families and countries.

"The aim was to humanise and inspire the children through art. To use art as an outlet for their anger, sorrow and pain," he told AFP.

Ibrahim said that after working on the production for several months he has grown close to those on the other side of the camera.

"I hope to see them one day face-to-face once the war is over," he said.

For the audience, many of them Syrian refugees as well, the play has driven home how much their country has lost.

"There is no more love in Syria like in this story. The war destroyed all that is beautiful in my country," said Mohammed Halima, a 24-year-old wheelchair-bound refugee who is receiving treatment after being shot five times two years ago in Syria.

"We young men are the biggest victims of this insane war, and everyone had a love story with someone," Halima said.

"But now we don't know where they are or if they are still alive."

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