When I heard that Royal Court was putting on a political play set in Syria called GOATS and they literally had live goats on stage, my immediate instinct was: Holy S**t! I need to go see this show! Luckily, I managed to snag a stall seat thanks to my babes at ‘OPEN DOOR PEOPLE’ and went along for the journey.
I’d like to start off by praising Royal Court because the downstairs theatre space is so beautiful, they have an awesome bookshop with a friendly bookworm on the till, they have a restaurant/bar space making it welcoming for everyone and most importantly they do such a great job of putting on new interesting work.
Also, I have a secret to share that not many people know about this theatre space in particular…
If you’re desperate to see a show there, for every show they offer 4 standing tickets, so if you arrive 30 mins before a show, ask for a standing ticket and they have them available. You can pay 10p… YES THAT’S 10 PENCE!! To get into the theatre for the show. After discovering that fairly recently I was amazed: I mean …10 PENCE! So, if like me you love theatre and love a bargain you’ll love this too. This was an epic discovery for me and more theatres need to have programs like this in place to fill empty seats!
Anyway, back to GOATS…
I sat down. Wasn’t sure what to expect and as the lights went down I hoped for the best.
Liwaa Yazji’s play is set in a small town in Syria where war and propaganda are an everyday reality for the locals; young men love guns, look up to soldiers and hope to die a martyr. The action on stage begins at a funeral, as the town martyrs are celebrated for being hero’s on live TV. The families grief is suppressed by their culture: they should be proud to have son’s that are willing to die for there homeland.
As more dead bodies start piling up, one father feels like there’s a conspiracy taking place and something is not right. So he decides to take things into his own hands by speaking up against the corrupt mayor and getting down to the truth of what’s really happening to everyone’s sons. In a political retaliation to this towns ‘freedom fighter’ questioning politics, the Mayor decides to compensate the martyr’s families with a goat for each son martyred.
As the play revealed itself, it made me question very socially relevant subjects that are happening now in the real world. War, patriotism, culture, propaganda, freedom of speech, power and how they all form a spiral of events that lead to institutionalised murder of our own loved ones and hate for ‘the enemy’ that does not exist.
For me, the writing/directing of this play was very comparable to Brecht’s ‘Epic drama’ technique because I did not feel emotionally involved with the acting on stage. Instead I was detached but reflective about the message and I think this was an interesting choice.
I’m not sure if this was done by purpose by the writer/director or if the audience was supposed to connect emotionally. If emotional connection was key, then I was not connected at all and sadly, I think the acting itself on most part was just very bad.
But, if the Brechtian technique was in play then congrats to all involved, well played!
Now, to the part that everyone’s been waiting for, my opinion of the live goats on stage.
People say you should never work with children or animals and in this instance they were right. The goats were a massive distraction because I kept finding myself ignoring the actors and watching the goats to see if they would do something they shouldn’t.
Funnily enough on the night that I went to watch, one of the goats completely upstaged the most dramatic scene of the whole play. The whole audience was laughing out loud in tears and the actors on stage struggled to keep a straight face about a scene related to suicide. This was all because a goat ran on stage from nowhere and started jumping from the stage to the stairs over and over again for a good 10 minutes. I was hysterical.
My final critique involves the set, I just feel like there was way too much going on that was not needed. Like the 5 coffins in the first scene were so pointless in my opinion because after 20mins, they had to all be taken off stage, the hustle and bustle of it all was just not worth it and it took away from the show. Also, it just felt like there was too much random set stuff going on for no reason and maybe that was to make up for the acting.
In conclusion, my experience watching GOATS was like nothing I have ever seen before. If you’re interested in the topic of war, how propaganda shapes our collective view on it and want to see something that will get you thinking. I do recommend buying a ticket. But if you’re after something very naturalistic then this isn’t for you.