The Tremors

Nikki Mailer
HER Productions
53two, Manchester

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The Tremors

May be out of my depth here. Lapsed Catholicism and listening to the Today programme may not be sufficient to appreciate a play about the complexities of the situation in Palestine. Hence the twenty-minute delay to the start of the play is spent speed-reading the background information in the programme. The Tremors is a play that rewards preparation.

The atmosphere inside the theatre is one of subdued celebration. The fifth anniversary of the Al-Istiqlal (from the Arabic for "Independence’’) bookshop is toasted with very hot mint tea and dates. It would not be appropriate to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the bookshop owner, Palestinian Layla Hammad (Sofia Danu), which falls on the same date as her husband is currently in prison.

There is a mystical aspect to the bookshop—the location varies, stock replenishes mysteriously, the text of books vanishes if the reader is unsympathetic and there is even a Tarantino moment of a glowing MacGuffin being uncovered. It adds to the sense of a place on the edge of conflict, constantly under threat and aware options may be running out—black-clad security guards silently patrol the stage ransacking the shop.

Avi (Ruth Lass) is a descendant of the Polish Jews who, in 1968, were forced out of their native country and exiled to Israel. She is anxious to secure an interview for her radio podcast with Layla who is not inclined to cooperate. There is the creeping possibility Avi’s solider brother David (Aaron Lynn) may have had a previous encounter with Layla which had disastrous consequences.

Author Nikki Mailer argues the problems in Palestine are The Tremors of the Holocaust; that those who suffered oppression are in turn inflicting ethnic cleansing on others. Much of the background information is conveyed by recordings of Ruth Lass detailing the experiences of Avi’s grandmother exiled from Poland and aware she was entering a land where people had lived before and been displaced to make room for the new occupants. The impossibility of Layla and Avi becoming friends or even reaching agreement is obvious as Layla cannot accept enduring suffering entitles the displaced Jews to pass it onto others.

There is a lot to take in and not all of it sticks in the memory. Really hope the long list of books Layla recommends to Avi is not significant as it goes right over my head. The impact of bored soldiers exploiting their petty authority by delaying or detaining people in the stifling heat is described in chilling detail.

Despite the sensitive subject matter, The Tremors is intellectually rather than emotionally stimulating. Sofia Danu plays Layla with a mystical remoteness as if resigned to her bookshop being vandalised and ultimately demolished. Layla wearily points out in Palestine apathy and indifference are luxuries—she longs to just listen to music without having to care about the political situation.

The inability to justify the repression of the Palestinians is reflected in Aaron Lynn’s increasingly surly performance as the extremes of David’s behaviour while a soldier are challenged. As justification, he points out a Jewish relative has been subject to racist abuse, only for his sister to reply that was in Manchester so not really relevant to Palestine.

Sofia Danu has the keynote speech, beautifully capturing the sense of violation and displacement experienced by Palestinians. She invites the audience to imagine how they would feel if a favourite book was taken and later found in someone else’s collection—whether you would demand its return or accept the loss.

The Tremors is a thought-provoking rather than emotionally engaging play, despite a nagging sense my limited awareness might have prevented me getting the full value.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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