In her opus
The strength of Palmyra lies not only in its highly competent leads, but in its bold use of noise, movement, and music.
The play uses the sacking of the ancient city of Palmyra by the Islamic State in 2015 as a springboard for a more general discussion on violence, civilisation and spectatorship. No mention of the Syrian Civil War is made beyond a brief note in the programme: instead, we witness a bitter rivalry between two collaborators, played out with arresting physicality. The duo vie for the audience’s sympathy and attention; Lesca is darkly charismatic, Voutsas quiet yet volatile. The audience becomes jury as each performer tries to convince them of the other’s guilt. They drop china plates from ladders, sweep them up again, spin each other on dolly boards until the stage is littered with sharp white debris. What transpires for the next hour is an incendiary journey into the psychology of destruction, and the role of the spectator in global conflict.
The strength of Palmyra lies not only in its highly competent leads, but in its bold use of noise, movement, and music. The theme of tension between two irreconcilable points is evoked through the noise of shattered crockery, the silence of festering anger. We hear musical interludes ranging from the Beach Boys to opera, which call us to question who or what is civilised, who or what is barbaric. Over the course of the play, Lesca and Voutsas create a rapport with the audience which is very special indeed, manipulating their jury with wit in a thoughtful piece which neatly toes the line between subtlety and symbolism.