Goats

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green finds the four-legged extras upstage the players in a thought-provoking production of Goats that would benefit from more measured direction.

Carlos Chahine in Goats at Jerwood Theatre

It is not often you find six goats chewing props and upstaging the actors in the theatre but this is indeed what happens in Syrian playwright Liwaa Yazji's new drama appropriately entitled Goats ( Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre) that casts a harshly critical eye on the conflict raging in the country.

Set in a small village in Syria, the play opens on the day of a mass funeral for a number of soldiers, celebrated as heroes. The rituals of mourning are interrupted by Abu Firas (Carlos Chahine), a grief stricken teacher and father of one of the dead, demanding the coffin be opened so that he can ascertain that his son is among the bodies. As the coffins pile up a local party leader decides a radical compensation scheme for the grieving families: a goat for each son martyred.

Yazji here evoked the furtive nature of a war-ravaged society that documents its own atrocities on YouTube, while denying that they exist, where families are nourished in propaganda and where punishment awaits troublemakers. But the storytelling is diffuse and muddles and Katharine Hall's translation clunky and disjointed, all diminishes the drama's serious subject matter and reduces its power to shock. However, two scenes in particular do resonate. In the first, a group of teenage boys play video games and smoke joints with the knowledge they may soon be joining the bodies in the boxes. The most emotionally charged scene however occurs near then end when a traumatised soldier returns home to his pregnant wife and mother. Full of anger, he lashes out at them violently, his rage fuelled in part by his wife's unquestioning belief in the official line about behaviour and sacrifice.

Director Hamish Pirie peppers his cramped, garishly-lit set with TV monitors, refrigerators and plastic garden chairs, presumably to show that normal daily life is expected to continue amidst the bloodshed.

The performances - with the exception of Chahine's moving Firas - seem stilted, with characters at times shouting into microphones whereas a more measured approach would have worked better.

Make no mistake, though, it is the goats themselves, combining a remarkable air of docility and innocence that really steal the show whenever they are on stage.

Goats

Runs at the Theatre Royal Jerwood Theatre until Saturday 30 December 2017

Box office: 020 7565 5000

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