Thursday, September 28

Idlib – Theatre Porto

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 first performed online in 2021.

Based on the story of a Syrian baker who wanted to return home and real interviews with Syrian refugees and escapees across Europe, it tells the story of a woman (Anoush Kendrick) who has hope, but it is both the prelude to this tale and what follows afterwards as well that make this such a special evening.

I have seen this production twice before – online and in-person at an intimate space several months ago – but I couldn’t resist the attraction of participating again at a new venue (for me) and with a new performer. It transpires that this is the start of an exciting project to assess how the piece engages with larger audiences in different performance spaces.

The evening begins with the making of bread, an act so simple and pure that it is a mainstay around the world with its rich metaphors resonating throughout religious communities from Christianity to Islam to Judaism, and hinting strongly towards the communion that will close the evening.

As Dyer mixed the essential ingredients, with a glug of oil and yoghurt reminiscent of the Levant, the usual reticence of the audience quickly fell away with two coming forward to assist him. As he spoke, we were drawn into the troubled story of the city of Idlib in North-West Syria, a place much plagued by the tragedies that we are all aware of yet often choose to turn away from: the failure of its wheat harvest in 2006 through to a full-blown civil war; the destabilising interventions from East and West; and the competing interests of its geographical neighbours.

A pause for the dough to rest saw a seated Kendrick take centre stage with a moving and mesmerising performance that drew us deeper into this troubled world of suspicion and despair, and at whose heart are real people, brought to life tonight and given a voice, a face even, with the arrival of a baker whose selfless act of salvation offers respite and hope from the horrors that surround their every day.

As the event shows on so many levels, something as simple as the making and sharing of bread with those around us can provide a moment of commonality. A moment to remember. A moment to reflect. A moment of hope.

Tonight, when an audience would normally get up to go their separate ways, we chose to stay, as one, and make and break bread together, with the wonderful additions of a beetroot dip, baba ghanoush, and a sweeter concoction, prepared earlier by Duncalf. For over an hour we engaged, shared stories and experiences. And smiled. There were lots of smiles. And laughter. I arrived with an old friend; I left with many new ones. That’s powerful theatre in itself but more so when that hope still resonates so strongly within the morning after.

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, has been touring the UK.

Storm in the North seeks to energise, beguile, and to tell the truth through making irresistible theatre for curious people. Further details

Theatre Porto has been making work for children, young people, and the communities of Ellesmere Port for over 35 years, and in August 2022, opened a brand new, specialist theatre and cultural hub in Whitby Park. Further details

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 9th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.