Written and performed by French actor Bertrand Lesca and Greek actor Nasi Voutsas, Palmyra is a play about destruction, power, ego and revenge. The play is named after the ancient Syrian city that changed hands at various times throughout the Syrian Civil War only to be eventually taken over and destroyed by Isis.
The play begins with Nasi discovering a plate has been smashed and arranged in what he feels is a deliberate way “Oh my God, what’s that, what’s that about … they’ve gone for it, they’ve properly gone for it”.
Cut to the two actors waltzing around the stage (one leading the other on what appears to be a homemade skateboard) to George Frideric Handel’s Aria “Lascia ch’io pianga”, from Rinaldo.
Bertrand asks Nasi if he can borrow the last remaining unbroken plate. “What for?” Nasi asks suspiciously. Bertrand takes a ladder to the top, taunting Nasi that he will drop the plate. Then he smashes it anyway from the top of the ladder.
Nasi’s patience is being tested. By the time Let’s call the whole thing off (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong) has been played Nasi is really angry.
In another attempt at provocation, Bertrand has taken Nasi’s chair “… give me my chair, give me my chair …GIVE ME MY CHAIR, GIVE ME MY CHAIR”.
Bertrand protests (in his strong French accent) “no, no, no, no, no”.
The momentum builds throughout the piece and the conflict escalates. Bertrand asks Jenny, a member of the audience, to look after the hammer.
Now Nasi wants the hammer. Bertrand pleads with her not to give the hammer to Nasi but instead to bring it outside. The tall attractive Frenchman then tries to work his Parisian charm on Jenny, who we find out is from Wales. She is unimpressed by this charm offensive.
The play builds on this energy of tension with its escalating violence. Nasi unleashes boxes of broken crockery on the stage. Everything is unravelling. Bertrand’s is singing “God only knows what I feel about you”.
At face value the play could just be about two guys fooling around, getting increasingly angry and frustrated at each other with a load of crockery being smashed in the process. However, I feel it’s more complex than that.
I interpret it as an exploration of conflict, violence and responsibility. I see it as a reflection on Syria and the disintegration of relationships.
Throughout the taunting and provocation towards Nasi, Bertrand gives the outward impression to the audience, he is trying to resolve the conflict between them. By the end of the play, Nasi tells Bertrand he wishes him to leave. He does with little protest in the end.
The night I saw the play at Battersea Arts Centre, London was Friday 13th April. Later that night I awoke to the news that Trump had ordered strikes on Syria.
Palmyra runs from 17th – 28th April at Shoreditch Townhall, London, along with their other play Eurohouse which explores how the wealthier countries in the European Union can “bully” poorer countries.
To buy tickets for this event Visit Shoreditch Townhall Website