Palmyra. A desecrated but still majestic city in Syria that was once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. Destroyed by ISIS soldiers during their first occupation in 2015, the locals stood in disbelief, clapping their hands to their mouth when they saw the rubble, an act intended to terrorise the Syrian people.
Look what they’ve done.
And this is how we are introduced to Palmyra, the inventive oeuvre conceived, created and performed by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas.
Lesca and Voutsas are quite the pair. Working together since 2015, it is difficult to draw the line between reality and theatre; and this is what makes Palmyra so thrilling, applaudable, palpable, captivating and at times, uncomfortable. Performance art at its best.
The stage is set with two black chairs, each with a plate by the legs. Except one plate is broken into pieces.
‘Llook what they’ve done’ to ‘they have really gone for it’ Voutsas utters.
At the start, their relationship is playful; waltzing and spinning, dashing around the stage on skateboards until they crash. They recover quickly, but it is their second collision that spawns the fight.
From here, their relationship tragedy escalates and begins to involve the audience.
Nervous laughter and uncomfortable shifting is heard and felt, as Lesca and Voutsas fight each other for our trust, validation and involvement.
But do we comply?
An audience member is given the task of looking after a hammer Lesca has given her, imploring her not to ever give it to Voutsas. While later, Voutsas pleads her to hand him the hammer.
In between these moments we see their relationship dissolve into violence, the stage strewn with broken plates, unnerving video footage, antagonistic brutal behaviour, vicious standoffs soliciting our mediation, by both men, that lead the audience to feel confused over who to feel sorry for and who to blame.
This is very much an intimidating and psychopathic relationship, and as the audience, we feel we have been contributing to it by our lack of pacification. Much like the West’s inability to intervene with the war in Syria…
In the closing scenes, with both men at breaking point, Voutsas asserts his authority to demand Lesca to leave, in the final tug of war of power, self-conceit and dissension.
We are left with The Beach Boys ‘God only Knows’ playing as Voutsas is left physically and metaphorically picking up the pieces of the fractured friendship.
An incredible hour of raw dramaturgy, that will excite, confront, provoke and unsettle even the most hardened of theatre critics.
Happy theatre travels…
This review also features on the Theatre Travels website – www.theatretravels.org