Yael Ronin and the Company
Barbican Pit

Production photo

Plonter means tangle in Hebrew and that is not a bad epithet to apply to Yael Ronin's production.

An awful lot has happened in Israel and more particularly Gaza since Rivka Jacobson reviewed the original version at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, where Ronin is the Artistic Director. Readers can decide for themselves about the rights and wrongs but whichever side they take, over 1,000 people have died in the last couple of months.

Plonter takes an episodic look at the uncomfortable interactions of Arabs and Israelis, thereby having something in common with the Off-Broadway hit, Dai (enough) by Iris Bahr and Robin Soans' The Arab-Israeli Cookbook.

It gets off to a disastrous start with a sitcom dinner when a pair of Arabs are invited to dine with the dreadful Tsippi, who proceeds to patronise for Israel, thereby getting a few cheap laughs.

The players then become deadly serious as first an 11 year old Arab boy is fatally shot by Israeli soldiers and then a reprisal attack on an Israeli settlement leaves a baby dead.

Escalation is inevitably rapid, as the Palestinians vow vengeance and we follow the activities of a group of pre-pubescent would be shaheeds or martyrs. They are balanced by a squad of unbalanced soldiers who are so nervous and brutalised that they take to victimising children like that one killed at the beginning, for fun,

The 100 minutes develop with an odd mix of light comedy and multiple visions of a country riven by an internal war already generations old. This can diminish the impact of what is a desperately timely and important piece of theatre in the current political climate, as Edward Olmert prepares to step down and leave the country facing an uncertain future.

Even so, there are enough telling indications of how badly relations have broken between the sides, symbolised by a pair of grieving mothers from opposite sides of the divide and their extended families. Worse, if the Cameri company have got it right, despite the personal cost to families, the current cease-fire could turn out to be no more than a lull in a battle destined to last for generations.

The nine-strong ensemble is cast from both sides of the divide and the actors speak in two languages, with surtitles in Arabic or Hebrew as appropriate plus English. Unfortunately, these are projected at the edge and front of the stage making it difficult to read and observe the actors.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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