|Steve Tiller, surrounded by food|
The evening begins with food. I've been getting more and more interested in how food relates to theatre - we even had a restaurant as a venue for Origins - how the experience of eating together makes the exchange of ideas a simpler matter. In this instance, the meal reflects the core of the play, and the audience become participants in the lunch that forms the springboard for the exchanges. The conviviality of this construction is important to the play - because conviviality is its subject. How, it asks, can the Israeli and Palestinian people live together? Jonathan and Steve are too nuanced and sophisticated in their thinking to suggest that they have any easy answers to this most intractable of diplomatic problems - but the form they have chosen does at least go some way towards the inescapable conclusion that they need to sit down at the same table and break bread together.
I was sitting next to a young man called Ahmed, who was one of two Palestinians in the room. As a child of 11, he had been shot by Israeli soldiers, when he and his friends were throwing stones in Gaza. The bullet had entered his body under the rib cage, and left through his back. He was very fortunate to have lived. Sitting next to Ahmed, there was nothing abstract about the political ideas Jonathan and Steve discussed: he embodied their physical reality. Without the meal and the conversation it brought, I would not have known this.
Jonathan and Steve also bring a physical reality to the discourse. For one thing, even though they read the transcripts of their lunches, you're constantly aware that they are speaking their own words. If you know them, you can hear the idiosyncrasies - only Jonathan could say "It's not umbilical at all". They've left in the overlaps and unfinished interjections, the moments when they say really stupid things - they've edited the conversations but not at the expense of the messiness that characterises what people say in the thick of an impassioned debate. I don't usually like verbatim theatre - I don't see that language is necessarily given dramatic validity by the fact that a "real person" said it - but in this case, where the parameters are very clear and where the "real people" are also theatre-makers who can structure their transcripts without losing the spontaneity, it becomes closer to a structured improvisation, and it really works. For another thing, they begin the piece by locating the politics firmly in their own physical presences as Jewish men - Jonathan rather disconcertingly describes his circumcision at the age of 8 days at the very beginning, and you can't get much more visceral than that.
So - the politics felt very real in the room. And the questions - horribly insoluble. The last part of the evening passes the debate to the audience, and there was a clear sense from everyone that the need was for Israel, somehow, to change its way of thinking about the Palestinian people, to recognise them as inhabitants of the same land, to include them in a single, cross-cultural, secular state. Is there a role for non-Israeli Jews in this, I asked them? The answer was that they could do as they had - invite people to dinner, debate in public, open the discourse. It's true, of course. It's the only way.