17 March 2011

Reading Hebron at the Orange Tree

Reading Hebron tries to describe some of the Israel/Palestine issues by exploring one event, the Hebron (or Cave of the Patriarchs) Massacre of 1994.

The play tells the story of Nathan Abramowitz, an American Jew, who is keen to learn more about the event to understand what it means to Jews in general and to himself specifically.

The (overly) simple starting point is that the massacre (and it's possibly cover-up) was a major crime and Nathan wants to know if he shares any of the guilt.

As Nathan researches the incident he learns more about the event, its context (e.g. the suicide bombing of that time) and it's history (the first Hebron Massacre was in 1929 and then Jews were the victims).

Nathan is central to the play which makes the actor David Antrobus central too. David is an Orange Tree regular and always delivers fine performances.

I tend to judge actors the same way that I judge the furniture on the stage; if it works well then you do not notice it, it all just seems natural. Actors only grab my attention on those occasions when they are stunningly good or, rarely, stunningly bad.

Here are five actors did what you wanted them to do, i.e. deliver convincing performances that did not pull your attention away from them as characters to them as actors.

This was no mean feat at the other four played multiple roles usually with just a minor clue in the dress or accent to guide you. Just as an extreme example, Amber Agha plays a young boy at one point.

This was a very effective device and allowed the story to include many witnesses to and viewpoints of the incident and the issues around it.

I did read somewhere that one of the actors was criticised for not sounding authentic enough as a Jewish mother but that misses the point completely; the Jewish mother was a minor role and all we needed was to know was that she was one from what she said and how she said, and that we did.

I may rank actors alongside the furniture but I'll stand up for them when I think they are being unfairly criticised!

As always, the other strength of the Orange Tree is the staging.

The set was simple, a desk and a few chairs, which morphed in to several different rooms throughout the play just as the actors morphed between characters.

It all worked very well.

The frequent changes keep the story moving quickly along for a hundred minutes without a break, as seems to be the modern fashion. That was two plays in four days and no ice-creams.

Through the play we see that the issue, like most others, is more complex than it might at first seem and their are many viewpoints and many histories. We also learn quite a few specifics about the Israel/Palestine situation and about Jewishness.

Another cracking production from the Orange Tree that confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that I am right to go and see everything that they do.

There was a little after-show plus as well. Having retired to the Sun Inn around the corner I was delighted to see one of the actors, Esther Ruth Elliott, come in. This gave me the opportunity for some unashamed fan worship and to say a few words about how much her acting in Once we were Mothers meant to me.

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