by Taurie Kinoshita, Artistic Director, Cruel Theatre
Raging for decades, some would argue centuries, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a bitter battle that has seen unimaginable loss and destruction on both sides. What can we as individuals do to address this critical issue? What is an appropriate international response? What are the viewpoints of the Israelis and what are the viewpoints of the Palestinians? When facing a conflict mired in religious idealism with potentially massive political and economic implications, how and can we proceed to deal with this seemingly insurmountable problem? These are just a few of the questions explored in director Harry Giles’s ensemble-devised Israel/Palestine.
Using sections of text from Rachel Corrie, Caryl Churchill, Antonio Gramsci, Israel Horovitz, and Deb Margolin, as well as audience participation and improvisational theatre games, Israel/Palestine is a thought-provoking, entertaining and touching journey into the heart of the crisis. As the audience enters the actors seem to be warming up—though some were speaking to the audience out-of-character (very avant-garde and the only aspect of the performance I found inconsistent with the intelligence of the rest of the play.)
The actual performance begins with a section from Horowitz’ drama What Strong Fences Make. Itzhak Shiffman, played with a quiet intensity by Callum McGowan, approaches an armed soldier, Uri Ambramovich, played by Rosemary Sales with brilliant nuance. The scene progresses, Uri interrogates Itzhak, and the audience is mesmerized by the ensuing drama. Suddenly the palpable tension generated by the talented young duo is shattered with a hilarious meta-theatrical device: a third ensemble member, Kiirsi Viitma stops the scene yelling ‘Cut!’ The entire performance shares the frenetic and diametrically opposed styles of the opening sequence—alternating between serious and comic, texts and physical improvisation, realism and a meta-theatrical Brechtian self-awareness.
For me, this was the real genius of Israel/Palestine: the content and the goals of the performance matched the style in which it was performed. The audience is asked to think, is led without any trace of didactic aggression to question and explore, to try to understand the impact and meaning of the conflict. Both sides of the conflict are presented and the audience is never goaded or pressured to think in a specific way or do anything other than to simply reflect and truly consider the repercussions of this bloody war. To this end, the audience is warmly greeted by the director and asked to sit wherever they choose. The space is assembled—or rather dissembled—suggesting the chaos of war, the inherent imbalance of life in such a conflict: chairs are overturned, a smattering of random objects obstruct the room. The audience is informed that they may move whenever they want in order to gain a better—or different—view! At times, the single focus of a scene is split and multiplied so each actor performs for a different group of audience members, re-enforcing the idea that to even talk about the situation connotes a difference in perception. In addition to being directly addressed in small, almost private groups by different actors and being physically moved by actors, audience members are also drawn into the performance by two ‘talk sections.’ The first is a general discussion involving both actors and audience members. In the second section the audience members are asked to write something on a piece of paper—whatever they feel inspired to write. Audience written responses were then incorporated into a version of the improvisational game The Machine (a sound and movement piece).
The ensemble demonstrates not only the history of the conflict but also the history of humanity with stylized and side-splitting ingenuity. All of the young performers displayed a virtuousity in handling the texts, movement sections and participatory elements. The piece ends with a moment of silence and the announcement that the director was taking donations for humanitarian organisations in the region; this is theatre at its best—revealing, investigative and communal.The choice of an international cast (actors from Poland, UK, Estonia, Italy and France) gave the performance additional weight–underscoring the universality of the conflict. Shifting modes of perceptions and opposing points of view, typified through the use of different styles of theatre stressed the ultimately humanitarian concerns of Israel/Palestine, an inspired and provocative and moving piece of theatre.
(view a profile of Taurie here)