It might be that there has never been a more difficult show to review. The Blue Box is a play, in Arabic and English, with songs performed by a multi-cultural cast from a Kuwait-based theatre group. It is a heart-rending account of the war in Syria as seen through the eyes of the children, based on a collection of short stories by Emma Abdullah. The box in the title contains an old man’s stories, but they really belong to the children.
They sing, “…are we really that far out of sight and that far out of mind?” and a prophetic song which is shattered by the coming of the bombs. There is no sound quite like the terrified screaming of children, even when they are acting, and this they do exceptionally well; it is disconcerting. Each story conveys a tangible sense of fear and foreboding. Some are truly shocking even though they are familiar: the abducted children groomed to become child soldiers (kill, or be killed), the drowning of families in the Mediterranean, the ironic thanks given by a young girl just before she is finally put to death.
The actors wear grey costumes and there is very little in the way of props, perhaps to convey the truth of the situation, which is depicted in the devastated urban landscape of the backdrop photographs. It all brings a sense of bleakness to the entire performance to which not even the beautifully sung ensemble pieces can bring brightness.
At the end, even the most atheist of audience would be moved to join the cast on their knees; there is an overwhelming feeling of empathy and sorrow within the space. This is spoiled by artistic director Alison Shan Price reiterating what has been made uncomfortably clear by the cast’s compelling performance. S he would do better to trust the intelligence of her audience and simply leave any post script to director/composer Harriet Bushman, or to Emma Abdullah, the writer of the original text, who spoke with a mature integrity which belied her years.
At the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there is a peace garden in which to sit and emotionally process the evidence of atrocities caused by war. Here at the Fringe, there is no such immediate sanctuary, but then, neither is there for the children of Syria.
This performance raised funds for UNICEF.