Wednesday, 28 January 2009

When having your heart in the right place isn't enough...

To the Barbican to see The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv's production of Plonter (meaning Tangle) - a collaborative piece devised by Arab and Jewish actors to portray the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. Focusing on the shooting of a Palestinian boy Khalil - the play then spirals out to explore the emotional effects of this one event on the families of both the child and the soldier who fired the gun. It follows the impact of the revenge killing of an Israeli child and even explores how the event is turned into a playground game of heroic martyrdom by Khalil's school friends.

This is all important, immediate and direct, but once again I felt I was watching socio-political theatre whilst sitting in a culturally informed audience who all understand compassionately that these violences and abuses happen. Most of us want to do something about it. None of us know what to do.

So what I didn't get, and longed for, was a sense of a potential future - be it inspired or sinister. These actors have worked together for six months and I wanted to know what more they understood, felt or anticipated about the conflict. The work was devised before the recent bombarbment of Gaza and so perhaps events have rather overtaken the companies even handed approach and brought the disproportionate power relationship between the two sides acutely into focus. However, the time is now and I felt we urgently needed insight, either a hope or a warning - I'm not sure we came away with either.

The best scene was the first where a conscientious Jewish family tries to entertain, without offending, their Arab neighbours. In the course of the uncomfortable dinner party every prejudice is revealed and every taboo about race and culture broken. It's very funny, absolutely democratic and offers a real expectation that the rest of the piece will hit hard.

Perhaps the current situation in Gaza and the settlements is just too awful ... perhaps the trauma too great, but theatre needs always to ask the difficult 'What if?' and leave the regulated media to try and reflect the current reality.

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