Bijili Productions’ Revolution Days at the Tramway is the immersive new play from Mariem Omari, starring Raghad Chaar and Directed by Shilpa T Hyland. Adapted from the real-life experiences of Omari herself, a former humanitarian aid worker who experienced first hand the horror, trauma, and suffering that people endured living in the Middle East prior to, and during the historical Arab Springs.
Chaar is riveting as Samira, the optimistic and idealistic Scottish/Lebanese aid worker determined to help people displaced by war across the Middle East, whether sitting in a refugee camp with women who have suffered sexual abuse, struggling to photograph a soldier’s lament at the death of his son, or empathising with people simply trying to survive in a land scorched by war. Samira approaches each person she meets with humanity, which inevitably helps her document, and attempt to make a difference in whatever way she can.
At first, working for the UN and later Médecins du monde, a sister organisation to Médecins Sans Frontières during her time in the Middle East, Samira inadvertently finds herself caught up in the Arab Spring, experiencing first hand, the hope, horror, and uncertain future that awaited people living in the region.
Effectively a one-actor play, Chaar is nothing less than hypnotic, bursting with optimism at the beginning of her journey, but as each humanitarian mission forces her to travel across the region, the haunting sights and first-person testimonies begin to weigh heavily, eventually taking their toll on both her mental and physical health.
Flitting between the perspective of both herself and characters she interacts with, Chaar’s performance helps turn a one-actor play, into a stage filled with dozens of living people all of whom express moments of sorrow, humanity, and kindness.
Chaar evokes the emotion of her evolving and eventually overwhelming trauma in such a fashion, it was palpably reciprocated by the crowd, to the extent that only upon the play finishing did I realise, I had been physically tense for about 60 of the 70 minute performance time. I can’t imagine I was the only person either.
Supported by diegetic use of newsreels projected on a screen, the noise of airports as Samira grabs her bags, the hustle and bustle of towns in the Middle East, refugee camps, or the powerful chants of revolutionaries in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, helps strengthen the audience’s immersion in Samira’s experiences, as if seeing and hearing the first-hand narration as it takes place, one particular scene in a nightclub is almost as cathartic to the audience as it is Samira.
Moments of hope and levity are often dissipated as quickly as they arrive, Samira explaining that during the Tahrir Square revolutionary protests, soldiers were shooting into the crowd, hitting homeless children. That as they lay dying, people refused to help or even touch them, because they were filthy, is particularly harrowing to hear.
Revolution Days is an intensely visceral piece of theatre, not only does it create awareness and empathy for a region that many of us in the Western World care to know little about, but it also manages to find moments of humanity amongst people who have suffered more bloodshed and devastation in a day than many of us will expect to in a lifetime.
It’s a testament to Mariem Omari’s willingness to recreate her experiences, Shilpa D Hyland’s direction, and also Raghad Chaar’s captivating performance, that Revolution Days, in as intimate a setting as the Tramway, felt truly global in scale, and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
All photo credits: Mihaela Bodlovic