Ancient Classic Expresses Modern Tragedy of Syria’s 'Trojan Women'

Naomi Pham
Left: the group in rehearsal © Laura Pannack; upper right: Maha, who gave birth to her third child in the middle of a bombardment © Laura Pannack; lower right: Reham, who was training as a beautician before she and her husband fled Syria © Laura Pannack

Amidst the ruins of Troy, Queen Hecuba declares, “Lift up your head from the dust! Heave up from the earth the weight of your misery, you whom the Gods have cursed. Some agonies are beyond telling, and some must be told.” One of the acclaimed works of ancient Greek playwright Euripides tells the tale of Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra and the other women of fallen Troy, who, after their husbands die in battle, now face being sold into slavery with their families. Although this war assuredly takes place in the past, director Zoe Lafferty’s reworking of the ancient play reveals a haunting similarity with the wars we wage today.

An outcry against war, performed at the Young Vic theatre in London, the play gives a modern spin to this ancient story, viewing it through the eyes of an  all-female cast of Syrian refugees. The Queens of Syria, Reham, Reem, Waed, Anwar, Khowla, Sham, Maha, Hannan, Sais, Diana, Rasha, Fatima, and Faten, a 13-member group of refugees, real women who know the pain and conflicts of war firsthand, perform Lafferty’s rendition of “The Trojan Women,” inserting their own true experiences into their onstage roles. Teetering on a precarious note of celebration, the production opens with Reham excitedly speaking of her wedding day. Things immediately take a turn for the worse when, paralleling Queen Hecuba’s fate, Reham and her new husband must flee after the kidnapping and murder of her cousin.

Reem exclaims to the audience, “We come from the Troy of this age . . . hundreds of thousands of victims . . . millions of refugees . . . everyone wants to bomb us but no one wants to accept us into their homes . . . only the sea opens his arms to us without any preconditions . . . When did it become normal to kill people?”

According to Charlotte Eagar’s Financial Times article “A modern tragedy,” this not only speaks volumes on the horrors of war which still persist today, but also addresses the dehumanizing effect on its victims. Like Hecuba, the Queens of Syria have been forced to abandon their homes and lives due to war, and now share stories for those who cannot, offering strength in the face of great tragedy, and raising awareness of the plight that refugee women face. While Reem acknowledges that theatre, often viewed as “high art,” allows only those who speak the same language to understand the shared pain and loss, she insists, “Maybe this play will never save a life, or return people to their homes, but it is better to light a candle than live in darkness.”

To read more about the background of the actors and actresses, see the Financial Times article by clicking on the link below:…/4f6e3a0c-4948-11e6-b387-64ab0a67014c

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