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At Home in Gaza and London – Station House Opera

At Home in Gaza and London
At Home in Gaza and London

Before this performance of At Home in Gaza and London, this reviewer was getting agitated about whether he would even get to see the show: trains were being cancelled in and out of Waterloo Station, making it difficult to get to Clapham Junction, and thus to Battersea Arts Centre. (As one good-humoured fellow passenger observed, this country really should figure out a way of getting out of Waterloo before figuring out how to get out of the European Union.) But there are problems, and there are proper problems. One character asks another about ‘the massacre’ (you will have gathered I made it in the end), and the response comes back, “Which massacre?”, such is the prevalence and frequency of them over in Gaza.

Technology has become increasingly prevalent in theatre, as it has been in other industries, and I’m not just referring to things like online booking and engaging with performers and creatives on social media, wonderful as those things are. Some nifty camerawork goes on as the show is broadcast and performed both at Battersea Arts Centre in London and El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza. Gaza, a Palestinian territory, is subjected to miscellaneous international economic boycotts, and it is difficult to gain entry, with various bureaucratic hurdles to jump through. Co-director Julian Maynard Smith found out quite how difficult it was as he began to explain to the audience what happened when he tried to get in. This deviation from the play only occurred to fill the gap during a loss of connection to the Gaza venue (power cuts are, apparently, very common over there), and his story was interrupted by a swift restoration of communications.

As they are singing over at the London Palladium at the time of writing in a production of The King and I, this is very much a case of ‘Getting To Know You’. The questions posed on each side are exploratory but not particularly deep, and a confrontation (yep, singular) is kept subdued – sparks do not exactly fly. It is, nonetheless, an extraordinary achievement, bringing together a community largely shut off from the rest of the world with one in a very multicultural city whose mayor launched a marketing campaign called #LondonIsOpen.

The set up takes a while to get used to: the motion picture Ghost momentarily crossed my mind as the video projections in both venues showed a relatively seamless interaction between performers on different continents. What can be physically seen on stage for example, is someone sat on their own holding their hand out. Look up at the screen, however, and they are, or so it would seem, holding hands with someone ‘on the other side’, so to speak. It’s cleverly done, but it’s also overly done, so the dramatic effect created in the early scenes is increasingly reduced as the show progresses.

On one level, this is a production that goes to considerable lengths simply to demonstrate that at the end of the day, human beings the world over have much in common. On another, however, it is discovered that there is much to celebrate. And while it is easy to dwell on technical hiccups (which happen anyway in live theatre even when there is no live link to another venue), there is a nice sprinkling of humour that permeates the production. I liked a detailed description of Box Hill, given in Arabic (the script is subtitled in either English or Arabic, depending on which language is being spoken at any given point), from the Gaza performers, discussing details as specific as the roaring traffic from the A24 and the scones and teacakes in the café run by the National Trust.

Even so, it could, ideally, have had a deeper narrative – for instance, the evasive response to a question about a massacre I referred to earlier is very naturalistic, but doesn’t make for great theatre. However, all things considered, it’s an intriguing audio-visual experience that does well to overcome the numerous challenges it sets itself.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

At Home in Gaza and London follows the lives of people living in two locations separated by great political, economic and physical divides.

By using a mix of live-streaming and recorded video, a single performance space is created where artists work together. They occupy each other’s homes, streets and other social spaces. Sharing their everyday behaviour and concerns, they dissolve into each other or become ghostly protagonists in the drama.

By exploring the ideas and practicalities of home, the realities of life in Gaza and London become the medium for an expression of physical existence liberated by global communication.

At Home in Gaza and London opens a new way for artists to engage with each other in different places across the world, allowing audiences to participate, while eliciting a direct and personal response to the problems of Gaza and its isolation.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH AMJAD SHABAT

CREDITS
Co-directors: Julian Maynard Smith & Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso
Artistic Technical Director: Matt Wasser
Assistant Director and Collaborator: Amjad Shabat
Produced by Ania Obolewicz for Artsadmin
Technical Director in Gaza: Hani Mortaja
Technician in the UK: Alex Hewitt
Technician in Gaza: Mohammed AlGhoul
Assistant Director in London: Ebaa Rezeq
Co-devised and Performed by: Aya Abdelrahman, Abeer Ahmed, Tara Fatehi Irani, Ali Hassany, Yoko Ishiguro, Mariam Nasser, Hamza Saftawy, Walid Tafesh and Owl Young
Sound Designer: Enrico Aurigemma
Lighting Designer: Alastair Armstrong

28 Jun – 1 Jul
AT HOME IN GAZA AND LONDON
Station House Opera
https://www.bac.org.uk/

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