The Pit, London EC2
Opened 27 January, 2009

Caryl Churchill may have written the first play about the Gaza bombardment to arrive on a British stage (the week after next), but she has been scooped to a certain extent by the fortuitously scheduled visit – the first to Britain in over 20 years – by the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv with its 2005 piece Plonter.
The title means “tangle”, and the succession of scenes portray a mess of direct and indirect connections between characters. The first scene shows a patronising, soi-disant liberal Jewish wife who has invited a token couple of Arabs to dine with her; her son, serving in the Israel Defence Forces, has just shot dead a young Palestinian boy; the victim’s friends then form a cell to commit a suicide bombing; another reprisal is the murder of a baby in a Jewish settlement in the disputed territories; his mother then begins abusively picketing a checkpoint in the “Security Fence”, which is actually situated in the living room of an Arab couple’s house, so that they require military clearance to go to the kitchen or toilet…
This last-mentioned is a slice of fiercely satirical absurdism, as the soldier manning the checkpoint demands proof of a babe-in-arms’ age in case he is a 16-year-old in disguise. Elsewhere, there is some subtlety which an English-speaking audience could miss in this bilingual production: as far as I could tell from the surtitling, the dead Palestinian boy’s mother is shown giving two radically different responses to his death, but the diatribe of revenge and martyrdom is in Hebrew and that of loving grief in Arabic, as if speakers of each language hear what they expect from her. Yael Ronen’s company consists of five Jews and four Arabs, each playing a variety of characters of each persuasion. The set is dominated by moveable sections of the “Fence”, in the shadow of which the cycle of reprisals and the babel of demagoguery continue. One Jewish extremist pledges that henceforth, the tariff will be two eyes for an eye, calling to mind Gandhi’s remark and suggesting that the world will go blind so much the quicker. And perhaps the most disheartening aspect of all is that, despite the company’s deep well of commitment and lived experience, the piece tells us nothing new to animate our concerns afresh.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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