Hiba, and her mother, Sanaa, at the Necropolis in Glasgow, will appear in The Trojans
Hiba, and her mother, Sanaa, at the Necropolis in Glasgow, will appear in The Trojans

The Trojans brought to the stage by war survivors

Real-life innocent survivors of a conflict are to tell the story of The Trojans at this year’s Fringe.

Hiba is standing in the garden of the council house she shares with her family in Milton of Campsie, near Glasgow. It’s a long way from Syria, the country they fled after Hiba’s school was shelled by the Syrian army, seven years ago. Slim, 19 years old, with alabaster skin, and huge dark eyes, Hiba doesn’t flinch as she talks of that terrible day:

She said: ‘I thought I was going to die. I wanted to scream at the soldiers – “I am a child! You are supposed to protect us not kill us!” It became normal to see your friends die in front of you.’

Hiba, and her mother, Sanaa, 37, a Syrian clinical psychologist, are just two of 18 Syrian refugees who will be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

They will be performing The Trojans, directed by Victoria Beesley, a brand new adaptation of Euripides’ 2,400 year old anti-war tragedy, The Trojan Women.

The cast, women and men, all of whom how live in and around Glasgow, have worked their own stories of why they had to flee Syria into the play. There will be a one off Gala performance at the EICC’s Pentland Theatre, in a co-production with the Pleasance, on 7th August at 4.30 pm.

‘I am so grateful for the play,’ said Hiba. ‘I didn’t talk about Syria with Scottish people before, but now I feel free to talk about it.’

The Trojans’ Edinburgh Fringe performance will be the culmination of a year long drama programme for Syrian refugees based in Glasgow. It first opened at Platform Theatre, in Easterhouse, in February, earlier this year, to standing ovations, full houses and a four star review in the List.

William Stirling, producer of The Trojans, said: ‘We hope the performance will be the start of a Scotland wide tour and be a fundraiser for the project.

‘The Trojans is the latest play from The Trojan Women Project, a psycho-social support drama programme for Syrian refugees which I co-founded with my wife, the journalist and filmmaker, Charlotte Eagar, back in 2013. We chose the Trojan Women because Euripides’ play is about refugees – it’s set at the fall of Troy, all the men are dead, and the women await their fate in the Greek camp. In our first production, in Jordan in 2013, the Syrian female cast made it clear they could completely identify with the characters they played.

‘We worked mainly in Jordan for the first few years, producing, amongst other things, the first ever Arabic adaptation of the musical Oliver! with Syrian children, backed by Cameron Mackintosh. We even toured our original play, as Queens of Syria, round the UK with the Young Vic in 2016 – to packed houses, stading ovations and a five star review in the Times. Then the Syrian refugee crisis moved to Europe, and it made sense for us to do a project back home.

‘After having met a group of Syrian refugees resettled in Glasgow, we decided to mount a new production here. Over 40 men and women joined the nine months of drama workshops, and of those 18 wanted to go on stage. We hired a Glasgow-based director, Victoria Beesley, to run the workshops. The play would be in a mixture of English and Arabic.’

Hiba, and her mother, Sanaa, at the Necropolis in Glasgow, will appear in The Trojans

Hiba added: ‘One day last summer my Mum said she was going on a drama course. I begged her to take me with her. I was so bored at home on my own!

‘Vickie taught us how to express what was happening inside us. By playing we talked about our personal ideas. It was such fun! My mum said you can do something for Syria, but I doubted her. I am very young, but with this play, my mum said, your voice is enough to change the world!’

The key is that the cast are essentially playing themselves; it gives them a platform to tell their stories to the world. Audiences react very emotionally to seeing ordinary people, just like them, having the courage to stand on stage to tell of their horrific experiences; they understand what it means to be a refugee. It helps humanise a crisis that can seem overwhelming.

Mohammad is one of the stars of the show. A tailor, living in Damascus, he saw his neighbourhood razed to the ground at the start of the war. His father was killed. Mohammed was then arrested and tortured by the Regime, after having hidden in a basement for over two years.

After six months, he was released – to be met by Maisaa, the neighbour who had looked after him when he was in hiding. The couple had fallen in love. They married soon afterwards and fled to Egypt. After joining the Scottish government’s resettlement scheme, the couple now live in a council flat in Springburn, Glasgow with their new born daughter, Judith, named for an aid worker who helped them in Egypt.

William added: ‘At the start of the project Mohammed was gaunt, hollow-eyed, one of the most haunted men I had ever seen.’

Mohammad said: ‘I honestly didn’t care if I lived or died,’ he said. “But with this play I have found a voice. Finally I felt I could speak without fear. Finally I felt someone cared about us.’

At the end of the play it is Mohammad who gives the greatest call for hope in the future, bearing baby Judith aloft.

Mohammed is now working as a tailor in Glasgow. And Hiba is at college, studying to be a psychologist, like her mother.

She said: ‘I really want to help others. I went through the war and I know what people are suffering. I want to be able to give back to his country with my work, because Scotland welcomed me and gave me human rights.’

Venue: The Pleasance at EICC – Pentland Theatre (venue 150)

Date: 7 August, 4.30pm (1 house)

Suitability: 12+

Box office: 0131 556 6550