JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE SIEGE at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 20.6.15.
4 stars ****
THE ATMOSPHERE WAS INTENSE, as the audience gathered for the opening performance at the Tron of Freedom Theatre of Jenin’s play The Siege, presented as part of Glasgow’s Refugee Week. Some of the audience had come only to celebrate the achievement of a company that has survived, in the huge Jenin Refugee Camp in northern Palestine, under the most shocking and difficult conditions; others had come prepared with relatively hostile questions for the post-show discussion.
There is no easy over-simplification, though, in the play itself, written by Nabil Al-Raee, and extensively based on verbatim accounts of events in 2002, when the Israeli army mounted a fierce assault on the occupied territories, and a group of Palestinian fighters took refuge in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, bult over the traditional birthplace of Christ. Focussing on the experience of five fighters who ended up in exile in Europe, the play is set in a side-aisle of the church; and framed by a contemporary narrative given by a tour guide, who tries to set the conflict in a wider context of the Middle East’s great shared tradition of spirituality and faith.
Most of the action, though, involves the dilemmas facing the fighters, as they they struggle for physical and emotional survival. The performances are as intense as they are moving; and if the conversation is often the stuff of war drama everywhere, that sense of shared humanity only makes the plight of the people for whom Freedom Theatre speaks more shocking, and this powerful piece of theatre more essential viewing, for anyone who can see it in Glasgow this weekend.
Final performance tonight.