Written in the sand

The Arab and the Jew, New Wolsey Theatre, November 16, 2007. Innovative theatre company Gecko has created quite a following, especially among students, drama teachers, and lovers of innovative, inventive physical theatre, as was evident from the almost full house at the New Wolsey last week to see the constantly evolving work, The Arab and the Jew.

Katy Evans

The Arab and the Jew, New Wolsey Theatre, November 16

Innovative theatre company Gecko has created quite a following, especially among students, drama teachers, and lovers of innovative, inventive physical theatre, as was evident from the almost full house at the New Wolsey last week to see the constantly evolving work, The Arab and the Jew.

Evolution (in terms of the piece changing each night), along with intuition and the personal experience, passion and cultural inclinations of the actors - one Jew, one Algerian - were what informed the show, not a set script or structure.


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The hour-long piece was a real feast of inventiveness and, at times, physically tough for the actors, who took the audience on an emotional journey through the animosity and also friendship of two nations.

The stage was set with a huge sand pit (symbolic of the disputed land), on which stood an upturned table and a lampshade. Then with a loud crash and flood lights shining into the audience, causing more than one or two nervous screams, the two actors appeared on stage, lying face down in the sand. A bomb had gone off in a café in Tel Aviv, but from then on there was no linear sequence of events.

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Chips dropped from the sky into the sand; false arms protruded from the side of the stage in a rather sinister way; a baby doll with a missing arm (blown off in the blast) became the focal point for some incredibly delicate, then heart-wrenchingly sad moments.

In one scene, the actors turned the tables and literally became audience members, showing their delight and also disgust at watching what seemed to be a strip show. This illustrated the symbolism of male bonding in the face of the feminine, but later they came into conflict and separation while watching a boxing match, leading to the masculine animal energy arising and for them to become the fighters themselves.

There were some extremely comedic scenes, especially where the two men became like performers in a royal variety show as they acted out a slapstick-style musical number, set to the poignant lyrics “We always hurt, the ones we love”.

The randomness of scenes could be interpreted as a meaningful metaphor itself - that the ongoing conflict, pain and violence do not make sense. There was also a certain dream-like or stream of consciousness quality.

The overall theme was that of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, but also the potential for friendship and brotherhood, with both coming from the same place, indeed, the same origins as both are the sons of Abraham (the sand being symbolic of this). But there will have been as many different interpretations of each scene as there were members of the audience.

Those who go to the theatre to be entertained by 'conventional' narrative plays may not, perhaps, appreciate The Arab and the Jew, whereas those who go to be moved emotionally, as well as stimulated intellectually, will love it.

The Arab and the Jew will be at the Lyric Theatre in London in January.

Katy Evans

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