Sour Lips is a clever, clever play. It tells the story of the controversy over the kidnapping of Amina Arraf, the Syrian blogger known as ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ who was subsequently found to be the fictional creation of American PhD student Tom McMaster. Exploring the difference between knowledge and misinformation, social media’s ability to give voice to the marginalised, and the role of the global community in supporting social change, this is a well conceived, well-written play that’s packed to the brim with ideas, if little actual action.
The plays opens to McMaster creating his alter ego – giving her a name, parentage, a home-town. He coaches her on how to tell her story, how to get the audience’s attention, how to keep it. Interestingly, as the play progresses, Amina seems to take on a life of her own, often disagreeing with her creator – supposedly representing a more authentic activist voice.
We were struck by the play’s powerful commentary on the media’s obsession with ‘heroes’. Amina Arraf resonates because she is one of the “bravest women in the world”. A gay woman, she chooses to move from the US to authoritarian Syria to fight for her rights. She does this by writing a highly provocative blog – which is followed by a large international audience – in which she is critical of the Syrian state, and open about her homosexuality. When the Syrian secret service finally come for her, her father faces them down, and she then stays on with him in Damascus, while the rest of the family flees. Brave – yes. Implausible – even more so. All this is possible only because for someone who does not exist, there are no risks. She is the blogging world’s very own unmanned drone.
The play moves slow and then fast – the latter at almost breakneck speed – mimicking perfectly the frenzied rhythms of social media activism, its sound-bite driven politics and cacophonies of voice and opinion. To an extent, clarity of delivery, and some of the play’s coherence, is sacrificed in order to maintain the tempo, and you have to work hard to keep up. But a special mention goes to the brilliant three-person chorus which voices the media commentary, tweets and facebook comments that followed the events as they unfolded – seamlessly driving the momentum of the play.
The play is on at the Ovalhouse until February 16th.