The destruction begins early in Palmyra, with the curtain lifting on a smashed plate and cries of outrage from Bertrand Lesca who wonders who could have done such a thing. Nasi Voutsas, his fellow performer and co-star from last year’s successful production, Eurohouse, makes no comment. The silence doesn’t last for long: in Palmyra, violence begets violence.
The play’s namesake, the ancient Roman city in Syria levelled by conflict with ISIS, suggests a geopolitical message. As the fury between Lesca and Voutsas grows less playful and more cutting, a comparison seems increasingly apt. The lapse into destruction seems absurd as the talented performers carefully cultivate tension with no easy explanation or solution. Whether it is a plate, a hammer or an appreciation for the fine arts, nothing can be safely shared between the two.
They lobby the audience to their side with documentation of past events, speculation about what could have happened in quibbles or even by simply pandering to members. Their attempts to win support seem out of place at first, then increasingly evocative of frustrating political tactics as they attempt to save face and pin their respective counterparts as the aggressor.
Rather than use a soundboard or any visual effects, they use a playlist and a laptop on stage to play different songs or abruptly stop them, adding to the show’s organic, unscripted energy, making the fight seem more human and more frustrating.
Tensely funny and fascinatingly relevant, Voutsas and Lesca will intrigue and surprise you throughout Palmyra. But beware of dust: conflict sometimes leads to rubble.
Words: Emily Hall
Picture: Alex Brenner
Palmyra, Summerhall, 21-23 (added shows), 10am