GO TO GAZA, DRINK THE SEA
ASSEMBLY @ ASSEMBLY HALL (VENUE 35)
AMID mounds of rubble and dust, and old shoes which suggesttheir former owners might be lost in the debris somewhere, scrambles a young man. He has just survived – for now – the shelling of his home city of Gaza by Israeli forces. Suddenly, an older man erupts from one of the heaps of wreckage around him, coughing and spluttering into the light. This is Abu Mohammed, a 'tunnel trader', or one of those merchants who smuggles goods into Gaza through a secret subterranean supply network; food, matches and even livestock. And, of course, armaments. Mohammed isn't just a salesman, though. To the young man, Sharaf, he's a kind of Marley's ghost, a phantom who leads him from Gaza Beach through the lives of his fellow Palestinians, until he must inevitably choose in which way the conflict is going to change his life forever.
The play is set during the Israeli occupation of Palestine at the start of 2009, and co-writers and directors Justin Butcher and Ahmed Masoud have titled it after an old maxim of Yasser Arafat's, to 'go and drink from the sea' – meaning to 'go to hell'. Young Palestinians have adapted the phrase as 'go to Gaza', the two concepts being seemingly interchangeable in both experience and in the origin of the name; 'Gaza' is 'Aza' in Hebrew, short for Azazel, the satanic fallen angel of Jewish sacred texts. The play notes, with ash-black irony, that not every people forced into the sea find that it parts for them.
The play is partial in terms of which side it takes, but only in so far as it can't humanly argue against innocent peoples who are caught amid brutal conflict. Yet other views are sought (BBC correspondent Christian Fraser and Omer, a middle-class Jewish conscientious objector in an upmarket Tel Aviv bar) and combatants on both sides are frowned upon (ordinary Palestinians denounce the PLO as "black mask crazies"). As with the sequence that attempts to westernise the loss of children by bringing out an unnecessary Madeleine McCann analogy, the play isn't perfect; but, in witnessing the raw power of a man recounting the death of his own daughters in crudely translated Arabic, its demand for answers about an atrocious time in a man-made hell carries huge moral and emotional impact.
Until 30 August. Today 2:30pm.