Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Edinburgh Fringe Performance of 'Bride of the Gulf'

Bride of the Gulf by Thinkery and Verse (performed during Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Venue 3 Cubed, Lawnmarket). Written by JM Meyer

A big play on a small stage. With an international cast, Karen Alvarado plays the main character (simply called HERO), it takes place in Basra, Iraq, during the Iraq war/invasion by Allied forces. The many different scenes show Iraqi soldiers not yet in combat, sharing jokes and banter. There are domestic interiors, with HERO talking on the phone to her sister who has left Basra, the daily difficulties of lack of electricity, her attempts to light a kerosene lamp but the funnels breaking (they’re designed that way, I break one every other day, she says). Once combat has begun there are journalists trying to get reactions amidst the sounds of shelling and bombardment. Sometimes there are two scenes going on at once, a domestic interior with HERO and an exterior one with soldiers running, shouting and crouching, around the outside. But this kind of split-screen action is not confusing, for it’s very life-like.

One of the simplest and most effective devices was duct tape the soldiers pulled across various parts of the stage. It might have represented barbed wire or possibly more generically the divisions and barriers created by war, and the various daily obstacles people had to overcome, as HERO stepped over it, or had to pull away parts of it that had stuck to her shoes – these daily obstructions, shortages and deprivations.

Her mother-in-law wants her to help her find Akil, her missing son, (and HERO’s husband) who had been working for the US and Allied forces as a translator and who has disappeared. Reluctantly, they view thousands of photographs of people who have died, in order to be able to eliminate the possibility that he is one of them.

This is a beautifully written and poignant play. It is so skilfully arranged, almost choreographed in its action. It shows the confusion of war, the horror of invasion and the suffering of the people. By focusing on one acutely painful story, the particular captures the universal. There is humour too, (often of the absurd kind) as for example the official in the morgue telling her to speak to his female assistant, not him, and then says she has to provide the paper for him to write a letter. She buys paper, brings it to him and then he asks her for a pen, so he can write it!

Between the harsh sounds of gunfire and shelling, there is also music, and while scenes change quickly or overlap, it is not confusing for the whole blends together until the action slows down in a moving finale. This is intelligent and compassionate theatre at its best, a choreography of movement, drama, music, the dark humour of the absurd, and the suffering of war.

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