As someone with no previous knowledge of the conflict going on in Lebanon for the 1980s, this performance was as much educational as it was enthralling to watch. The cast and crew brought life to ordinary moments for people in war zones and just outside. The intimate Belvior St Theatre allowed for slight interaction and well-paced interest between audience and performer. Beirut Adrenaline works as a piece for many reasons, but most importantly for it’s rich culture and relevance today.
The play, having been translated from French, is abundant in references to the Lebanese community and Western life in France during that period. It’s characters and mannerisms are unique to the history of those who experienced the era and way it affected people around the world. A constant smoke of concern seeps into every setting and the lungs of every person in the play as they fight in any way they can to ease their pain. Their opinions on justice, trust and survival preach to an already converted, liberal minded crowd, but the message is worth further reach. In current dangerous zones, as with in Beirut in 1986, people become trapped in more than just a physical sense. These static characters you witness who progress very little are a testament to the difficulties associated with moving on from your history and your traditions and your warridden home. The current media burst on asylum seekers and refugees brings heavy focus to why people leave their homes, but it doesn’t explain what emotionally happens to a person who stays and a person who leaves it all behind. This production does.
Clarisse Ambroselli‘s set design works beautifully for most of the show, creating a small but immeasurable distance between two neighbours on their balconies. The lighting is simple which allows for a focus on occasional real footage projections. This was designed by Larry Kelly, as was the sound design which creatively styles each scene. One of the most memorable experiences of the performance is the similarity between certain sounds, like gun shots and harmless fireworks, or dancing music taken from one side of the world to another where it’s meaning changes just enough to sink your heart. Each production element complimented the script which was nicely written, so there’s no need to worry that the true meaning of the play will be lost in translation (Director and Assistant, Anna Jahjah and Kris Shalvey, did a wonderful job).
In a show so realistic and heavy in significance, the cast become even more important. Every character showed humanity with flaws and hopes and fear, although Mansoor Noor expertly evolved Toufic into a facade close to home. Often we see young people who have never experienced conflicts first hand that are full of heart, naivety and frankly cockiness. Toufic is the epitome of every young man eager to fight but unaware of the effects fighting human against human can have, and the true damage of death on any person. Noor’s portrayal gave me shivers as he transformed on stage from one kind of man to another and is arguably the standout of the piece.
However saying actions speak louder than words may be antiquated after seeing this performance. While Toufic has actions aplenty, it is Eli Saad’s Zyad whose words strike home. In a speech that impresses and effectively educates everyone including Lebanese audience members. It is impossible not to understand and sympathise with Zyad as he breaks down what it means to put blame on someone during war. He expresses how it is too easy to look at events like the current Syrian conflict from a surface level, to place accountability for all these deaths on an outdated two party viewpoint. Zyad, and by extension Saad and Jahjah, propose that the cause of war is more complicated and difficult to place responsibility on than officials and media outposts might suggest. That even those who experience the war, who fire the shots or who sit on the other side of the world after escaping an unsafe space, even they cannot answer why war happens and who can be blamed for the death, destruction and heartbreak. All anyone can do is learn by reflecting on the past and immerse themselves in hope for the future, because in the end that’s as much power as ordinary people like those in this show and sitting in the theatre are capable of doing.
Beirut Adrenaline is playing at Belvior St Theatre until 14 August.
Sabrina Stubbs – Theatre Now & Talking Arts