City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland


By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 09 August 2007

Show details
Traverse Theatre
Traverse Theatre Company
Running time: 
Phillip Howard (director), David Greig (writer), Jon Beales (composer/arranger), David Overend (assistant director), Anthony MacIlwaine (designer), Graham Sutherland (sound designer), Chahine Yavroyan (lighting designer), Ros Steen (dialect coach)
Nathalie Armin (Muna), Alex Elliot (Wasim), Dolya Ganvanski (Elena), Pual Higgins (Paul), Khalid Laith (Zakaria)

Paul (Paul Higgins) enters the lobby of a Damascus hotel;
he's in the city to sell the English language teaching materials he's written
to a prestigious local college.

Zakaria (Khalid Laith), the hotel porter
befriends him in the hope of meeting Scottish girls.
Paul meets Muna (Nathalie Armin) and Wasim (Alex Elliot), and the cultural, historical and emotional confusions and complications ensue.

So, essentially a comedy of
misunderstandings and potential disillusionments - except that it's set in Damascus,
the place Saul the Jew was on his way to when he apparently had a vision which
changed the focus of Christianity and the future history of large parts of the
world. The city whose Caliphate rivaled that of Baghdad, and whose population
was for many centuries Muslim, Christian and Jewish and which tolerated all
three. A centre, as Wasim points out, of Islamic culture.

Now a wide-screen television dominates the hotel lobby, and
Elena (Dolya Gavanski), the foyer pianist, is reduced to playing Rachmaninov
backward to an unappreciative clientele of Muslim matrons taking tea with their
friends. Safety and survival are the upmost concerns for Wasim especially, as
the multi-cultural assumptions of Paul's text-books are torn apart to accommodate
contemporary Syrian sensibilities.

There are some fine comedic moments here, as
the cultural presumptions of east and west are paraded in their own versions of
the emperor's clothes. Although he fails to sell his English language course,
Paul's departure is delayed by 'the situation', and unable to get home in time
for Valentine's Day with his wife, he finds himself featuring in the hopes
of Zakariah, who dreams of selling his autobiographical film-script to
Hollywood and meeting lots of exotic (i.e. foreign) women.

Like Paul, this reviewer couldn't help feeling that somehow
things had not quite worked out as expected. However seemingly pleasant the
hotel and the people encountered appear; rather like the imitation fountain of the
hotel's foyer, one wondered why certain things were where they were while the
suggestion of other elements led to expectations unfulfilled.

Elena's biting satires on her tone-deaf audiences hide her
essentially choric role; her opening speech leads us to expect a darker, deeper
tale than the one which unfolds, and to speculate on what that might be (and
may be again?). This is a pity, as a great deal of hard work has clearly gone into
the creation of 'Damascus', but it ultimately fails to fully satisfy.

Times: 5-26 August (not Mondays) , time
varies (see Fringe and Traverse programmes for details)

Copyright Bill Dunlop 2007. Published on 2007