Amal Omran, Christin Lüttich, Collective Encounter / Collective Ma'louba, Donald Trump, Edinburgh Fringe, Immigration, Migrant Crisis, Mohamed Alarashi, Mouayad Roumieh, Mudar Alhaggi, Rafat Alzakout, Reem Ali, Summerhall, Syrian Civil War, Syrian Refugees, Theatre Review, Your Love Is Fire
Welcome to the Edinburgh Fringe, which is this year curated by President Donald Trump. Not curated in the positive sense that he has selected the performances, but in the negative one that his tiny hands have been rummaging through the existing Fringe guide, ripping out pages. Several shows have been cancelled or postponed because artists from Arabic countries have been unable to obtain visas. The Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst is the latest performer to pull out of the Fringe after her Syrian bandmates were denied visa access.
The Home Office claims that this is not a policy that is in any way coordinated with Trump’s ban on immigration from Arab countries, but merely the result of honest incompetence. At least when Adolf Hitler was orchestrating the 1936 Olympics, he didn’t insult the world’s intelligence by pretending it was all an accident that athletes from certain races and cultures had not been invited.
Why isn’t this a major political scandal? The situation is now such a fiasco that the Home Secretary Amber Rudd should be considering her position. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe simply cannot be an international arts festival if performers from one of the world’s great cultures are prevented from travelling here. Our city has been humiliated and the arts in this country are now undergoing a significant loss of international status.
Mudar Alhaggi’s “Your Love is Fire” has finally limped into the Summerhall after two of its four actors were denied visas. This play faces insolence every which way it turns. Keith Mckenna’s review for the British Theatre Guide was quick to identify the most towering injustice on stage:
On the back wall is screened footage of a cat repeatedly terrorising mice before tearing them apart. We see clips of a mouse shivering in terror, clips of the bodies of mice torn but still living and in one case a cat eating a live mouse. You don’t have to be a supporter of animal rights to object to cruelty being constructed for entertainment. Summerhall should ask for this footage to be removed from the show. The play certainly didn’t need this crude gimmick as a metaphor for the violence of the regime.
Is this a fucking joke? After a single sentence that recognises the visa difficulties behind staging the performance, and an implicit acknowledgement of the terrible inconvenience of the Syrian war for the artists, Mckenna issues this call for the play to be censored because of the death of a mouse. Forgive me – I might be going completely out on a limb here – but is this not just a mite insensitive? It could be the demand that the Summerhall limit the freedom of expression of artists who have escaped a dictatorship. It could be perversity of thinking that a dead mouse is too distressing for a story in which six million people are displaced from their homes. It is not, in brief, quite morally normal.
“Your Love Is Fire” is the result of a collaboration between the Syrian director Rafat Alzakout and the German theatre-maker Christin Luettich. Both are on stage at the start of the show, recounting their visa problems matter-of-factly and yet not making any excuses for the quality of the show. In truth, a lot of the fight of this play lies in its audio-visual design, and it survives the loss of two actors by slipping more footage, voices, and subtitles into the mix. In the best scene, Hala (Louna Abu Darhamin) berates the lover whose face is screened impassive and trembling behind her. A climactic instant of violence is played hauntingly from speakers, with the gunshot fired in a domestic dispute booming louder than a mortar shell.
There is a Berlin arthouse chic to this show that is very at home in the Summerhall. The postmodern playfulness of “Your Love Is Fire” is also very Berlin and very Summerhall, but it actually puts some unfortunate distance between the story and Syria. In a paradoxical framing device, the play is being written by an author who is himself a character in the play. It might be a metaphor for Assad – a nationwide author of lives and deaths – but it remains neutral and puzzlingly amoral. The author just writes the story and that is that.
An Edinburgh audience wants an insider’s take on what it is like to be a Syrian migrant. “Your Love Is Fire” is most powerful when it agrees to this. The fury of a girl who is too much of a casual fuck to be inquired after by her lover when her house is bombed is strangely funny and thought-provoking. What is the correct etiquette after a bombing – who in your contact list would it be appropriate to call first or call at all? The lack of privacy in a refugee camp is brilliantly brought home by the story of a woman who won’t like it there because she screams during sex. There are sombre, fascinating accounts from a German detention centre, where the inmates, far from acting as heart-breaking charity cases, show a regular human disappointment at being unable to get coffee. These intimacies convey the war to us in a way that chewed mice and postmodern artifice cannot.