The project that took us to Palestine was a play called This Flesh is Mine, which Border Crossings produced in collaboration with Ashtar. It had long seemed to me that, as a company dedicated to a theatre of intercultural dialogue, we should engage with the Middle East, but I was unsure how we could begin. When Brian Woolland suggested to me that we might work on a production that approached the politics of the region through the prism of The Iliad, it opened up the possibility of engagement without the pitfalls of simplistic moralising. Mythology allows you to address the present without apportioning blame or picking over historical minutiae. It permits a purer, more emotional identification with the experience of prolonged warfare.
To begin with, we were not specifically thinking of Palestine. Our main development period took place in Beirut, in collaboration with a company there called Zoukak. The workshops we undertook in our own country encompassed refugees from Syria and Iran. Always in our minds were the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq: in the latter part of the play, the search for Helen begins to seem like the quest for Saddam Hussein’s elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction – “a glamorous excuse for war”. We became fascinated with the way in which Achilles’ decision to withdraw from the war might move beyond the personal vendetta over the slave Briseis that is at the heart of The Iliad, and become close to the intense disillusionment felt by so many who are implicated in the conflicts in the region today.
After the Iliad comes the Odyssey. After the tales of war, there come the tales of returning soldiers, of altered homelands, of the long voyages home, the displaced people on the seas. As the refugee crisis grew in 2015-16, it seemed both obvious and essential that our Homeric Middle East should move into a second phase, an Odyssey that responded to this new turbulence, just as our Iliad had responded to Middle Eastern wars.
"This Flesh is Mine" was rehearsed and performed in Ramallah, Palestine. Both plays were subsequently performed in found spaces in London.
How it was done
“The play truly breaks down barriers” – The Guardian
“A riveting performance of poise and emotion…. theatre of the highest quality” – Counterpunch
How it went
Main lessons learned
“We’re all in this together, stirring it around, trying to find things out by working together.”
Writer: Brian Woolland
Director: Michael Walling
Cast: Iman Aoun (Artistic Director, Ashtar Theatre), Razan Al-Azzeh, Emile Andre, David Broughton-Davies, Andrew French, Tariq Jordan, Gerrard McArthur, Bayan Shbib, Jumaan Short.
Designer: Will Hargreaves
Lighting: Nick Moran
Music: Dave Carey
Plays of Love and War
“A riveting performance of poise and emotion…. Theatre of the highest quality”
“excellent production. With impressive performances and an ingeniously used set design, WHEN NOBODY RETURNS is a sharp and tragic look at the damage that war does, not only to the soldier but to his family as well. It touches on the heart of today’s conflicts – and it will not fail to touch the heart of anyone who watches them from near or far.” – London Theatre Reviews
“I am Palestinian. I am from Gaza. The plight of the mother losing her sons spoke to me on a spiritual level. The costumes and the effects made me feel like I was in Gaza living the struggle first hand.” – Audience member
“The poetry and poignancy of the text, the power of the performances and the clever use of the space combined with the beauty of the sound design makes for an astonishing and moving piece.” – Audience member