Review: British Theatre Guide

February 27, 2009

Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea

By Justin Butcher & Ahmed Masoud

Passion Pit theatre & Zeitgeist Theatre

Theatro Technis

 

Review by Howard Loxton (2009)

 

 

This is a theatre piece that has been created in the last three weeks in reaction to what has been happening in besieged Gaza since Christmas with first air attacks and then a ground assault by the Israeli army which they called ‘Operation Cast Lead.’ It is essential a piece of verbatim theatre, constructed from the interviews and statements from people in Gaza, video footage taken there, an Israeli government spokesman seen on television news and some scripted material which is itself based on actual people and events, and some beautiful songs sung by Nizar Al-Issa accompanying himself on the Ood.

It opens by welcoming us to Gaza (Retzu’at ‘Azza in Hebrew) Azza being a sort of  devil  and therefore also welcome to hell where a white faced figure emerging from one of the tunnels constructed beneath the closed borders to bring some food, fuel, medicines – and arms –  to those beleaguered there. He is both a real merchant and a sort of Virgil figure to lead us through the various levels of this Inferno but the personal stories that we encounter are entirely real. A mother waiting for her son to return, the choreographer daughter who tries to lift her own spirits with dance, the paramedic shot in helping, the father whose little daughter will never walk again, the extended family of 49 all dying together while sheltering in one members house when the rest been  destroyed, the UNWRA local head and the BBC correspondent who had informed the Israeli’s of exact locations of places used as shelters and with no military connection that were then bombed or shelled, the young man who’s experience is driving him to take up arms.

Except for Israeli government speak and one voice from Israel – a Jewish peace protestor talking telling us of her terror when the army she had once wanted to join now turned its guns on her – this is a view from Gaza. It is an emotive piece, a cry of pain made bearable by some beautiful and poignant songs. This is not a piece of political argument but a simple presentation of what life as it is now being lived. The writers, who are also co-directors, and co-deviser and designer Jane Frere have appropriate the image of shoes now closely associated with the Holocaust and the extermination camps in which so many Jews and others died and used it here with potent force. They have put together a powerful blend of theatrical elements that touch the heart. However it is not just a plea for compassion and human rights ignored for it shows the reaction of joining the Hamas military. It does this through a piece of clever choreography, extremely effectively, but at the risk of romanticising the brutal facts and which turns waste of life into patriotic martyrdom rather than the tragedy for all of us that this play represents. It is played with great sincerity by Fisun Burgess, Rupert Mason, Amir Boutrous, Ali Alzougbi and George Couyas and it is almost unbelievable that something so effective could have been created in such a short time. At the first preview, which is when I saw it, a couple of voices were not yet quite matched to the playing space but that is something that should be easily corrected by the time my colleagues go to see it.

Until 14th March 2009

 

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·  Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea

·  Until Sat Mar 14

·  Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Rd, London, NW1 1TT

·  Rating:

 

·  By Andrew Haydon

Posted: Mon Feb 23

·  Hard on the heels of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’ comes Justin Butcher and Ahmed Masoud’s rapid response to the recent conflict in Gaza. The play adopts precisely the opposite strategy to Churchill’s piece, choosing to focus almost entirely on Palestinian characters and studiously avoiding any reference to either Judaism or Islam. On the face of it the drama is about the ‘human tragedy’ but, inevitably, it takes a position. As such, its pretence of objectivity becomes deeply insidious.

Theatrically, the piece is a rather fun mix of pretty much everything. It’s got Palestinian music and dancing; monologues and drama; stuff that looks like verbatim theatre and stuff that’s clearly speculative; video footage; comedy and tragedy and physical theatre. These elements are loosely framed by the story of a young Palestinian who has lost his will to live: he is led, Dante-like, around scenes showing some of the various ways one can die in Gaza, which, it is noted, can be translated as ‘hell’.

The staging is striking. At one end of the large church hall-like space is what looks like rubble but turns out to be thousands of shoes. Shoes become a recurring metaphor for death. While effective, it is also troublingly reminiscent of the room in the Auschwitz memorial museum. While carefully including a Jewish conscientious objector as one of the numerous talking heads, and a news clip in which the claim that Hamas use human shields is made, the piece remains unavoidably partial. By showing the young man finallylosing his life by joining ‘the resistance’, Butcher and Masoud imply that Palestinian Muslims have been forced into a corner and that Hamas is purely a resistance movement, not an aggressor. The piece is moving on loss of life in Gaza. But I felt that it was also propaganda and specious justification for Islamist terrorism.

Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea

Published Monday 23 February 2009 at 12:30 by Jonathan Lovett

Exactly a month after Israel announced a ceasefire to its latest bloody incursion into Gaza this passionate response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis opened.

Rupert Mason (Abu Mohammed) and Amir Boutrous (Sharaf) in Go To Gaza, Drink The Sea at the Theatro Technis, London Photo: Tristram Kenton

The rapid reaction of the producers, writers and designers belies the impressive detail and polish of a multi-media production incorporating personal testimonies, film, music and dance to create a harrowing journey into a very modern heart of darkness (here “Drink the Sea” means “Go to hell”) and a moving celebration of the human spirit.

On an extraordinary set of thousands of dust covered shoes – reminiscent of installations in Auschwitz – a lone musician sings of suffering before Sharaf (Amir Boutrous) ironically welcomes us to, “Gaza beach – seaside resort of the promised land”.

In short scenes, performed by the cast of six, we learn of the school decimated by white phosphorous shells which “burn on a victim for days”; a father whose children were shot in front of him; the families too scared to leave their homes, forced to survive on the festering tank water.

Wisely refusing to take an overtly political standpoint we are left with righteous anger at the death of innocents and a gruesome lack of accountability based on the facts.

The shoe theme

February 24, 2009

Jane Frere, set designer and co-deviser, writes

Shoes have always held a great fascination for me as a artist.
The humble shoe not only takes on the form of its wearer, but bears witness to that person’s journey through life. Shoes retain a memory, in a way become objects of nostalgia, and when the wearer has long since gone, for me the shoe retains an element of that person’s spirit, acts as a kind of portrait.

I first used shoes thematically in a promenade theatre design set in a disused shoe factory in the suburbs of Athens in 1992. The production “Woman at War” addressed the plight of refugees, primarily in that case from Bosnia. The shoes became a metaphor for the displaced.
A decade later I stumbled across shoes again when I made a succession of visits to the former Nazi concentration camp at Majdenek in Lublin, East Poland. I was so overwhelmed by the vast scale of the massed piles of shoes – testimony to the many thousands who died there – that I filmed them for a video installation.
Ironically it was in Majdanek that I conceived the idea for my art installation, “The Nakbah Project, Return of the Soul”, which relates to the consequences of the holocaust and the subsequent displacement of three quarter of a million Palestinians when the state of Israel was formed in 1948.
In Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea, the mountains of shoes can represent a desecrated landscape, pulverised by the bombardment of tonnes of explosives from air, land and sea. At the same time the shoes can have many meanings, symbolizing people both dead and alive.”

Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea

Theatro Technis, London

3 / 5

Michael Billington 

Saturday 21 February 2009

In 2003, Justin Butcher’s The Madness of George Dubya launched a series of plays attacking the war in Iraq at this tiny north London theatre. Now, Butcher has joined forces with the Palestinian writer Ahmed Masoud, the artist Jane Frere and the film-maker Zia Trench to create an 80-minute piece responding to the situation in Gaza. While it makes no pretence to objectivity, it is a deeply felt, humane and vividly expressive reaction to the current crisis.

Its title springs from a slang Arabic phrase in which “go to Gaza” is synonymous with “go to hell”. The force of that becomes apparent the moment you step inside the theatre, where you are confronted, in Frere’s astonishing design, by towering mounds of ashen rubble constructed out of shoes.

This becomes the setting for a series of vignettes of Gaza life loosely linked by the plight of a young man looking for a place to die: a somewhat redundant urge, as he is wryly reminded, in a blockaded territory suffering from dire water and electricity shortages, as well as intensive aerial bombardment. Politicised by the prevailing suffering, he joins the resistance forces, and finally finds the extinction he craves.

The somewhat self-conscious literary framework is less impressive than the sequences it contains. A young Gaza girl, in the midst of a fierce air raid, launches into a life-affirming dance, to her mother’s horror. Similarly rejecting parental values, an Israeli woman describes how she was imprisoned for refusing to join the army. Most moving of all is the itemised reading of the names of 49 members of a Gaza family who all died after being moved, by the invading forces, to a supposedly safe house. The overall mood, reinforced by plangent songs delivered by Nizar al-Issa, is one of lamentation at the transformation of this once beautiful land into a living hell.

Created in three weeks and backed by large and small donors, including Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the show is not perfect, and has no time to explore the political context of military action. But theatre is not bound by rules of impartiality and balance: you don’t, after all, get a fair picture of the French in Henry V. I stress the point only because this week has seen strenuous attacks on works like Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children and accusations of antisemitism levelled at its supporters. I sincerely hope the same does not happen with this latest piece, which offers a moving plea for the cherishable value of every human life.

  1. Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea
  2. by Ahmed Masoud, Justin Butcher, Jane Frere and Zia Trench
  3. Theatro Technis ,
  4. London
  1. Until 14 March 2009
  2. Box office:
    020-7734 8932

Action shots (5 of 5)

February 17, 2009

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STEFANO CAGNONI

Action shots (4 of 5)

February 17, 2009

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STEFANO CAGNONI

Action shots (3 of 5)

February 17, 2009

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STEFANO CAGNONI

 

Action shots (2 of 5)

February 17, 2009

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STEFANO CAGNONI