Following their debut at Platform in Glasgow back in February 2019, the cast of Terra Incognita’s show The Trojans have made their way to Edinburgh for a one-off performance of their Euripidean-inspired play at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Understated in its design, the real-life experiences recounted by the ensemble onstage lay bare the harsh reality of war, saying goodbye to your loved ones and moving to foreign countries.
Just shy of 20 people, the cast of The Trojans comprises a group of refugees who have resettled in Glasgow following the Arab revolution and the current war in Syria. Those onstage are not actors but are ordinary people who have made it through extraordinary circumstances and are willing to tell their story. While there are moments where the ensemble recite text from Euripides’ The Trojan Women like a Greek chorus – a creative decision that creates a solid structure for the performers’ own narratives to follow – the main focus of The Trojans is not the classic tragedy but the real-life suffering these individuals have endured.
One by one, the cast onstage share their own experiences of the uprisings – the horrors they saw and the desperation to escape a place they no longer were able to call home. Even though they may not have the same opinions regarding the political regime that instigated the political unrest, they are united in their shared trauma and survival. Recollections of the bodies lying in the streets – including their own loved ones – are agonising to hear. Some of the women speak of being separated from their children by European borders, struggling to stifle their own tears as they relive those goodbyes. Remembering the moment he found his father’s body, one man admits being unable to mourn for him – his personal grief eclipsed by the atrocities he had witnessed prior. These living memories are still so raw – like fresh, open wounds – that those not in the spotlight can be seen wiping away their own tears as they listen to each others’ stories. To try and imagine how they feel is futile, particularly as some cast members beg for forgiveness from those who were left behind, but their powerful words leave an impression.
The performers alternate between speaking Arabic and English, with subtitles appearing during the arabic-spoken monologues. Among those who choose to speak in English, a charming Scottish twang can be heard. It is an incredibly brave thing to perform to a group of strangers and relive such harrowing experiences before them – particularly in front of people who speak a different language and have different cultural values. Yet there are no barriers here between the ensemble and the audience. As well as their pain, we sense their nervousness as they describe coming to Scotland for the first time. Their first impressions of the Glasgow’s rainy days and famous cuisine (a Blue Lagoon fish and chips) elicit smiles from the audience and the rest of the cast who remember how they adjusted to the changes. Their heartfelt gratitude toward the people of Glasgow who opened their doors to them is a humbling moment to witness.
As The Trojans comes to a close, we are reminded that the better life refugees like those onstage hope for is not just for themselves but for future generations. Some surprise guests are welcomed with a standing ovation by the tearful, clapping audience; it is a beautiful end to a journey that began with so much suffering. Not often enough do we hear from those who have been persecuted by war and have no choice but to seek refugee elsewhere. Platform, The Trojan Women Project and Glasgow City Council should all be commended for allowing Glasgow’s growing Syrian community to be heard.