A matter of art and death

The Siege

The Siege

The Freedom Theatre

Birmingham Rep Door

*****

FREEDOM Theatre have a powerful message. Founded in Northern occupied Palestine, their mission is to fight for peace with art and to spread the message of humanity across the world.

It has a dream of cultural resistance with many members having lived in Occupied camps their entire life. The company feel so strongly for humanity and peace to override all, that they are willing to give their lives for the cause. Some members have in fact paid with their lives for the love of Freedom Theatre.

The Siege highlights the Palestine and Israel conflict, shown from the Palestinian point of view. With the direction and extensive research of Nabil Al-Raee and Zoe Lafferty, the company relays a real life event.

Bethlehem 2002. The city has been overtaken by the Israeli army, putting curfews in place and taking away the livelihood of more than two hundred civilians, leaving the centre of Bethlehem paralyzed for 39 days. 

The play itself focuses on one place in particular within The Siege, The Church of the Nativity. To Christians, it is instantly recognisable as the birthplace of Jesus. Freedom Theatre reflected the 2002 event of besieged Palestinian soldiers inside The Church. While turmoil is outside, death and weakness lies inside. Welcomed by a priest, the play shows a humbling reflection of human survival and a fight for humanity.

In their first tour of Britain, Freedom Theatre has bridged the cultural gap between the East and a different view within the UK. At the beginning we are greeted by actor Ahmed Tobasi, who is a tour guide for the church in a light hearted and humourous preset. He integrated with the audience, talking about Bethlehem and the wonders within it, without a mention of war.

As the production starts, he welcomes us to the sacred church he loves so much and asks for donations as a playful way to draw our attention. It is with a sudden burst that we are hit with the strong voice of the theatre company. With the use of terrifying sounds of gun shots, a choking atmosphere is created.

The company consists of six actors, depicting the parts of those within the church over the thirty nine day period. The actors are the tools that constantly remind us of the realities of war and the human experience of the events. Half of the actors are from the Jenin Refugee Camp. A life of war is part of their soul. Actors Ahmad Al Rokh, Faisal Abu Alheja and Ahmed Tobassi are excellent at injecting their own passions and feelings into the project.

Milad Qunebe is a strong Palestinian and Christian soldier and Hassan Taha and Rabee Hanani create an emotional empathy toward their roles. Through them, we see the conflicts between men in desperation for their own lives, which gives the audience a completely new avenue of thought.

The play is performed in Arabic with English surtitles. This creates an intimate atmosphere, giving way to authentic and moving emotions. In Freedom Theatre’s native tongue, we feel every passion of each line. The set is also magnificent with a wonderful design from Anna Gisle. In this we made aware of the scale of the church, with high arches and dark shadows. Incense is used to create a serene atmosphere, but is juxtaposed by the story contained within it.

A moving reminder to constantly let us know the reality of war lies within the use of a projection of footage from the conflict over the years. In intervals and scene changes, we are shown of the realities that shape the lives of many.

In Freedom Theatre, everybody feels that it is their purpose to change the world through art. Actors are trained at Freedom Theatre School for three years and the research process alone was a year and a half. The fact that they are willing to die for Freedom Theatre shows how strongly they believe that art can change the world. To 06-06-15

Elizabeth Halpin

04-06-15

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