Tuesday, April 23

Idlib – The Uniting Church in Garden Lane, Chester

Written and directed by Kevin Dyer, and produced by Laura Duncalf, Idlib started as a piece of prose as a prelude for a play that morphed into a short story before becoming the script for a monologue performed online in 2021.

Based on the story of a Syrian baker who wanted to go home and real interviews with Syrian refugees and escapees across Europe, it tells the story of a woman (Paislie Reid) who has hope.

Drawing upon this background, the evening began with the making of bread, an act so simple and pure that it is a mainstay in many communities around the world with its rich metaphors resonating throughout religious communities from Christianity to Islam to Judaism.

As Dyer mixed the essential four ingredients, adding a glug of oil and yoghurt to replicate the Levant, the guard between performer and audience naturally fell as we drew upon our own memories and experiences in the context of the tragedies that were to befall Syria from the failure of its wheat harvest in 2006 through to a full-blown civil war with the further destabilising contributions from East and West.

As the dough rested, Reid took centre stage to deliver the monologue, her calm voice reassuring until you listen properly to her words, words which carry the alarm of those plunged into the despair of a suspicious world that is too often about kill or be killed. With the apparent absence of humanity, ordinary people – just like you and me – would be forgiven for asking why they had been forsaken.

Yet there is a glimpse of salvation in this parable-like piece with the arrival of a stranger and the making of bread. An act to bring people together, to mould the necessary parts – even though initially they may seem at odds with each other – and create something good. To break bread with others irrespective of which side they’re on. A moment of peace amidst the violence and fear. A moment of reflection in spite of the surrounding noise. A moment of hope.

Amidst the realisation of what truly matters, an engaged audience contemplated, through image and word, its favourite meal and the importance of carving out time with family to share not only our food but also of our self. As we came to express our thoughts openly and comfortably with each other, we drew upon a renewed inner confidence that had risen this evening as easily as the dough, which itself, with a little knocking back, was now ready to be broken into pieces to be rolled out and baked, Levant-style, on a hot metal plate, ready within minutes to be enjoyed with the beetroot dip and baba ghanoush prepared earlier by Duncalf, and a communion of souls of a different sort took place and for some time we all had hope: right here, right now, there is much need for such hope and this one simple act offered a glimpse of light in a world replete with darkness and hate.

Idlib was possible due to a commission from Farnham Maltings and Dyer’s full-length play, The Syrian Baker, with which the material of the monologue overlaps, is now touring the UK.

Friday’s resurrection of the piece was a one-off performance although it is hoped that further opportunities will arise to share its powerful message further afield, right to the heart of communities.

The evening was filmed by Jake Ryan of Action Transport Theatre.

Storm in the North seeks to energise, beguile, and to tell the truth through making irresistible theatre for curious people. Further details https://www.storminthenorth.com/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 25th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★