The Arab and the Jew

Amit Lahav and Al Nedjari
Gecko
Lyric, Hammersmith
(2008)

There is very little verbal communication between the Arab (Al Nedjari) and the Jew (Amit Lahav), yet a great deal was exchanged. Body language, sounds, music and lighting provided impressive and laudable communication between the two.

The two are gently lowered, like two large birds, into a big sandpit in the centre of the stage. Both are dressed in white suits, looking more like buddies, yet the body language and crackling noises accompanied by muttering of 'I don't know' indicate alienation.

In a brilliant touch of humour, chips and a bottle of what looks like mayonnaise falls from 'heaven', and this replaces the suspicious looks with excitement at the prospects of meal, even if it is soiled with sand. It takes little to bring people together, once they are left alone. The outside world's obsession with the clichéd images of the Arab and the Jew is superbly translated into a cabaret scene where Al dons the Arab head-dress (kafiah), and Amit puts on a large black hat with sidelocks. The amalgam of music, décor and humorous body gestures and movements is electrifying.

The atmosphere changes rapidly to reflect reality. Attempted communications and a fight over an orange typify the core of the dispute. Attempts at reconciliation culminate in a fight, a real one in a boxing ring. You sense the physical pain with every blow. A doll is introduced and shared by the two when the bang meant another funeral. The two people's history is demonstrated by each.

Al, the Arab, is seen in a little niche where an orange tree dominates the room. A telephone call from his father tells him to remember who he is. Arab music intoning the word 'Palestine' can be heard. A massive hand can be seen beckoning him to come.

Amit the Jew, on the other hand, is faced with mannequins of females resembling members of his family, family of a European complexion. They disappear as if hinting at the Holocaust, the loss of generations. Then stretched arms appear and he climbs on them to reach the pinnacle where a shining bright white object is handed to him. Descending with the treasure in his hand, he attempts to bury it in the sand. The atmosphere is solemn and tense. The allegory of the Jewish heritage is powerfully depicted in its bare simplicity. When the Arab desires a share in the light, the Jew shows him that the land is full of them; one need only dig for them. Make that little extra effort to find the treasure. The mutual desire for the same thing is left unresolved.

There are more questions than answers in this exceptionally stimulating piece. We learn that we always hurt the ones we love, and here it is the pain of two neighbours who have more in common than that are allowed to practice.

This production must travel not only Europe but also to the Middle East. The language used is universal and therefore no subtitles are needed in any country.

All in all, this is a superlative production, exhilarating in its ability to highlight without words one of the world's most complex conflicts.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson