The Singing Stones is a jigsaw puzzle of perspectives on what the play’s creators see as potentially “the greatest missed opportunity of the 21st century”. In 2010, the Arab Spring swept through North Africa and the Middle East where despite countries such as Egypt booming financially the voice of the people was entirely absent.
Freedom of expression is a vivid theme in Kay Adshead’s latest piece of political theatre. Graphic images of lips being fused shut by fire and singing voices silenced by brutality recur. The play opens with an argument that making art, or reflecting creatively on war contributes nothing of any value, and it closes with the response – but what else can we do?
The reaction of the woman sat next to me at the theatre seemed to epitomise how many of us have responded to the barbarous acts carried out by the various regimes before, during and indeed after the revolution.
When the actors spoke of so-called ‘virginity tests’ performed on the roadside she tutted. It wasn’t long before, head in hands, she let out an exasperated and audible sigh at the story of a young woman’s body being mutilated. She gasped in disgust when more bodies were burned, and by the curtain she was crying silently, desperately to herself.
This journey from quiet disapproval, through vocal objection to helplessness seems to reflect a common feeling about the atrocities occurring in Iraq and Syria today. The Singing Stones’ press night even coincided with a debate in the House of Commons as to whether the British government is doing enough to help.
Although Adshead’s play occasionally feels like grandstanding, and some of its points are trite, it does reflect a familiar feeling of impotence. The piece falls down in places thanks to a lack of structure, but its message is a good one. It is an invitation to listen, to witness, and to speak up.
The Singing Stones is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL.