A Letter to a Friend in Gaza
The Coronet Theatre
Reviewed – 19th November 2019
“Rather than a piece of theatre, it has more the feel of an art installation that we would like to wander in and out of at leisure”
“A Letter to a Friend in Gaza” ends with the Israeli filmmaker, Amos Gitai, reading a letter written by Albert Camus during the Occupation in 1944. In Camus’ words, the letter (written to a ‘German Friend’ who had had become a Nazi) was intended as a ‘document of the struggle against violence’. Seventy-five years later, recited in Hebrew, the resonance echoes powerfully in Gitai’s innovative production at the Coronet Theatre. Highlighting the Israeli-Palistinian conflict, this multimedia show demonstrates the universality of the struggles, dating back to the Romans and spanning nearly two thousand years.
This is no documentary, though, but a series of snapshots from the heart, caught in music and poetry. Dominated by the writing of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish it includes the words too of the Israeli S. Yizhar and the Israeli Arab writer Emile Habbi, among others. What the writers share is a fatalistic conviction of how one who has nothing to do with politics can be drawn into it. This production, thankfully, avoids that and concentrates on the emotion rather than drawing us into any political debate.
The poems are read onstage around a table by Clara Khoury, Makram J. Khoury, Yael Abecassis and Amos Gitai himself. Two Palestinians and two Israelis respectively. I say respectively though it is almost impossible to be absolutely sure from the readings – but that is quite possibly the point to be made: that it doesn’t matter – we are essentially all the same anyway. Read in Hebrew and Arabic, the reliance on the projected surtitles diminishes as you become submerged into the rhythm and musicality of the language; complemented beautifully throughout by three musicians who play around, behind and in front of the cast, weaving moments of pure magic between the words.
Alexey Kochetkov’s lonely violin begins the evening. A sparse, yearning sound that builds into a multi-layered conflict of harmonies and glissandos. Bruno Maurice strides the stage, the plaintive notes of the accordion wafting over us in his wake, while Kioomars Musayyebi anchors the sound in the Middle East on the santur – or dulcimer. Individually or collectively, the musical accompaniment is the real heart of the evening. An evening that ultimately feels a touch longer than the ninety minutes running time. Rather than a piece of theatre, it has more the feel of an art installation that we would like to wander in and out of at leisure. The intermittent back projections of news and archive footage were, if not unnecessary, a distraction at times. Yet it was the charisma of the actors and musicians that pulled focus.
You may not come away from this performance enlightened or any the wiser about the conflict, but you are aware that your heart has been spoken to directly. You take away emotions rather than thoughts. Is it a one-state or two-state solution? This show doesn’t offer answers, it is far more universal. It offers reflections. No sides – just mirror images of each other – opposite yet identical.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
A Letter to a Friend in Gaza
The Coronet Theatre until 23rd November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: