THEATRE — OZ ASIA — While I Was Waiting— Dunstan Playhouse —4K

By Belle Dunning

‘While I Was Waiting’, from Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar and directed by Omar Abusaada, has its Australian premiere at the 2018 Oz Asia Festival. Touted as one of the ‘shows to see’ at this year’s Festival, it doesn’t disappoint. 

The production follows the story of Taim, a young Syrian man brutally beaten at a security check-point in Damascus. While he remains in a coma, we watch the drama of his family’s life unfold around him, blatantly exposing the ordinary lives, emotions and fears of everyday people in Syria. As they struggle to make sense of why he was beaten, and reflect on the realities of the Civil War in Syria since the Arab Spring of 2011, the audience is given a raw insight into the impact of this conflict on ordinary people.

Taim’s coma acts as a metaphor for the limbo in which Syria itself is caught, suspended in never-ending conflict, unable to move forward. Through the use of a two-tiered stage, Taim himself watches over his family from above, also suspended in time. A sense of futility, confusion and despair comes through strongly, and a feeling that everyone is lost — both those who have stayed in Syria and those who have left.

Perhaps this production does not add anything new to the political conversation about Syria, but it does provide a valuable insight into what feels like a real family’s experience of the conflict. And it is refreshing to have the main character’s perspective as that of an ordinary citizen who struggles to understand the purpose of the conflict, the need for violence, and his place in the world — rather than the image of the angry, violent extremist often portrayed in the media. 

The decision to perform the show in Arabic (with English surtitles), and to intertwine real video footage and music, adds to the authenticity of the narrative and helps to transport the viewer to that time and place. The only pitfall was that the surtitles weren’t always synced up well with the spoken script, which disrupted the flow and made it a little difficult to follow at times.

Both a political commentary and a portrayal of an ordinary young man’s life, ‘While I Was Waiting’ adds a much-needed human element to our understanding of the Syrian Civil War. While throwing into the contrast the stark difference between our lives in Australia and the conflict in Syria, it reminds us that we’re all just humans, struggling to make sense of the world.

Kryztoff Rating 4K

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