This is a shiny example of a play you either love or hate. So let me tell you why I don’t love it 😉
First of all: the cast was very good. Aeneas (Gareth Potter), Ascanius (Malakai Magassouba) and Hector (Mike Nadajewski) are doing a great job. I also liked the stage design, minimalist and dark, it lent an additional flair of depression and anxiety to the production.
But. What I didn’t realise beforehand but probably should have guessed: this was a total rewrite – and admittedly the logical way to deal with the ancient play in this day and age. So we have fugitives running from their burning homes in the face of a war they don’t want, to places where they’re not wanted, repeatedly giving up security and happiness for what they think is their right: land. Not A land, but land to rule over. Slowly everybody dies around Aeneas, (the princess being another fugitive who has a job, the trip into the underworld a drug addled nightmare, friend Ascanius prostituted out to the female rug dealer and finally as the last of his friends dying in the last desperate attempt to flee from yet another fugitive camp) until Aeneas, his young son and his new lover/wife find a place where they are allowed to stay, a land for them. Hope blossoms.
Unfortunately I had one feeling throughout the play: the irrational urge to scream: thank you, Canada, with your 20.000 fugitives, mostly families, for telling me, the European, overrun by approximately 2 millions of fugitives, mostly young men, that these people need help and support. Franco Canadian writer Olivier Kemeid (who apparently won prizes for this play) draws a bleeding heart picture, efficiently omitting the glaring problems European countries face under the onslaught of fugitives. Yes, I do want to help them, and I did/still do. Yes, nobody should have to run from his home. But to make fun of overwhelmed officials who are bound by laws is a cheap way of creating sympathies and in my case played not in the narrative’s favour. To leave out the problems of concerted attacks on female victims because they dress differently in the streets or -even worse- in public swimming areas, the fact that so many young men come without any passports because they are advised to burn them in order to conceal their origins and lastly the -luckily very few- men who come in the guise of fugitives but are in truth part of IS’ agents … all that makes for a poorly written one sided script that misses diversity as much as another angle of approach.
Mr Kemeid’s family apparently was forced to leave Cairo in 1952 and came to Canada. In his small autobiographical blurb in the programme he emphasises that they didn’t claim to be of a chosen people – an uncalled for slight against Judaism. He speaks of the Epic of the dispossessed and how Aeneas seeks a state, a country for his son, in which they can live , basically ruling out any form of adopting another peoples’ way of life. It is this kind of entitlement that is actually building walls between people. Walls that are enforced by an almost stubborn inability to at least learn the new language that some fugitives make their own. It would have been nice if these problems were addressed in the play, but that – seems to me – was to much to want from this script.
Fun facts: according to my wonderful host Joan, a couple of British guests left at intermission, calling the play “rubbish”. And even some of the actors themselves aren’t totally sold on it: at least one can’t wait till It’s done.