Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Published 12 August 2017

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Palmyra at Summerhall

Inspired by a destroyed Syrian city, this playful performance burns with violence.

Chris McCormack
'Palmyra' at Summerhall. Photo: Alex Brenner

‘Palmyra’ at Summerhall. Photo: Alex Brenner

No one’s less surprised than Nasi Voutsas when a dinner plate belonging to his co-writer, Bertrand Lesca, is found smashed. His face flashes spectacularly between shock and commotion, who’s he kidding? But in a play taking its name from a Syrian city that recently lost its ancient monuments to ISIS, a feigned outcry is not to be taken lightly.

Who knows how many levels of meaning there are to this completely beguiling production. Initially, you might think nothing more of Bertrand’s plan to get revenge. High atop a ladder, he requests to hold Nasi’s plate, alternating grins and serious stares to the crowd. Bertrand sends it crashing to the ground. His co-performer attacks him with a hammer.

That is a shocking shift from benign clowning routines that see two men trying to best each other. But, as suggested by sly use of Harry Connick Jr’s song Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, there are differences as slight as saying “potato” or “patattah”; the distance between both individuals is discreetly cultural.

As their playful acts burn with violence, we are inevitably caught up in the struggle. Bertrand, bemoaning his difficult co-worker (whom he goads in equal measure), asks an audience member out on a culture date to Paris. As he skates self-possessed across the stage to elegantly swelling strings of baroque music, he slates Nasi as a primitive who doesn’t ‘get culture’. The cruelty cuts to the bone.

Miraculously, this may well represent conflicts in the wider world, between a prioritised West and a dismissed East. Lesca, Voutas and dramaturg Louise Stephens use clowning and horseplay to give shape to more extreme acts of retaliation. When Bertrand instructs his co-performer that nobody wants him, Nasi lashes back with silent rage, bringing even more smashed delft china to the stage. It’s affecting that the boxes he empties it from say “FRAGILE”.

There, living along the wreckage, Nasi broods understandably with rage, even giving death threats. This is a portrayal of radicalisation, for sure, but without sensational flourishes; anger, instead, is grown out of global inequality. We leave him in the dark, spinning to the Beach Boys. “God only knows what I’d be without you”? He’d be better off.

Until August 13th, with additional dates August 21st-22nd. Book tickets here.


Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Palmyra at Summerhall Show Info

Produced by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutas


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