Review: The Guardian, 21st February
February 21, 2009
Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea
Theatro Technis, London
3 / 5
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.