Bertrand Lesca & Nasi Voutsas return to the HOME studio (after last night’s intriguing Eurohouse) with Palmyra, using as a starting point a concert entitled ‘With a Prayer from Palmyra: Music Revives the Ancient Walls’, which was staged in the ruins of the ancient city, on the same site as executions had taken place.  It’s part of HOME’s Orbit Festival.

There are initially similarities to Eurohouse.  The stage is virtually bare, only the two performers exist in the space.  There is relaxed audience interaction that hides a sinister truth.  We see how Bert controls Nasi, representing a specific global dynamic.   But this is an altogether more powerful performance with a deeper message.

I suppose at its heart Palmyra questions who owns a country’s cultural history.  And is that history more important than the people who inhabit the land now?  The play opens with an opera; if you look up the specific concert, this was a Russian staging of a Russian opera followed by Prokofiev and Bach.  There is a wonderful (mock improvised) scene where Bert invites an audience member to come to Paris with him, but the premise is clear; all the world’s most valuable art can be found in Paris.  Does our world value high culture over everything else?

The second question the play asks is whether there is higher value to human life or ancient relics.  Broken plates loom large throughout, representing the fractured city and its destroyed monuments.  Key to the success of the production is the very different attitudes of the two performers to this destruction; those that live in the place have to get on with life as best they can.  The loss of human life is a shocking but deliberate omission in the narrative.  When Nasi plays a film of Bert trying to hit him with a hammer, the effect is almost comical.  Can it be that we have become immune to the loss of human life?

Beautifully conceived physical theatre with a powerful message.

HOME, 3-4 October 2017, as part of Orbit.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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