Seven Other Children – John Nathan’s Review

This review, by John Nathan, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Actor and playwright Richard Stirling’s 10-minute theatrical response holds up a mirror to the 10-minutes of Caryl Churchill’s now famous, some would say infamous, Seven Jewish Children.

Stirling’s play, directed by Simone Vause, reflects much of the structure, speech patterns and rhythms of the piece that caused so much controversy when it was staged by the Royal Court in London in February (I myself regarded Seven Jewish Children as antisemitic). And, like any reflective surface, it gives a reversed image of the original.

As with Churchill’s play at the Royal Court, this work is performed by nine actors and each scene is set within a period of modern history. But whereas the original begins with the Holocaust and ends with Israel’s attack on Gaza last year, Stirling’s timespan is between 1947 and the present day.

The perspective, however, is Palestinian, not Jewish. This time it is Palestinian adults who thrash out what version of the truth about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict should be revealed to an unseen child.

And this time, the child is a Palestinian “him” rather than a Jewish “her”. As a result, the repeated refrain is “Ask him…” as opposed to Churchill’s “Tell her…”

Stirling, who is not Jewish, has said that the focus of his riposte to Churchill’s work is the “distorted education of many Palestinians about Israel, Israelis and Jews”.

“Ask him if he understands the Naqba” (the Arab word for the “disaster” of Israel’s establishment), says one adult in his play. “Ask him what they do with children’s blood,” asks another.

Where education becomes propaganda and where propaganda becomes a downright lie is a worthy subject for any drama about the Middle East. And I understand Stirling’s motivation to respond to Churchill with a play in kind.

But the danger of holding a mirror up to a work whose content you find offensive, is that you end up replicating distortions rather than opposing them.

And if one of my complaints about Churchill’s play was that the playwright, a non-Jew, implicated all Jews in her criticism of Israel, then the same point must surely apply to Stirling, a non-Palestinian whose play, it would appear, represents the attitudes of all Palestinians, even though Palestinians are conspicuously absent from his title.

One member of the audience suggested to me that the two pieces should be staged together, which might raise the level of the debate. But it appears that debate is not the Royal Court’s priority.

Before Stirling’s piece was performed, the cast read out his letter of complaint about Churchill’s play sent to the Royal Court’s artistic director Dominic Cooke. But permission to read Cooke’s reply has been withheld by the Royal Court, with a threat that it would sue.

Ridiculous.

This review, by John Nathan, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

2 Responses to “Seven Other Children – John Nathan’s Review”

  1. Hal Says:

    David T’s take on Harry’s Place

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/05/08/royal-court-calls-in-the-lawyers-shuts-down-debate/

    This, by analogy, is how I see the play.

    Imagine that somebody writes a play called 7 Black Children.

    The thesis of the play is that black people were once slaves, but now are sexually enslaving white women. A collection for rape victims is held after each performance.

    It is pointed out that this play toys with the most deeply entrenched and racist of stereotypes about black people.

    Nonsense, say the play’s defenders. Black people DO rape white women, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out. Or are you in favour of rape? The Guardian’s theatre critic describes the play as a ‘bold exposure of the way that black boys are bred to rut’.

    And in any case (a) the play stars Derek Laud and (b) it is a fantastic work of art and should be judged on that basis.

    The author then explains that the ‘Race Relations Industry’ is using bogus complaints of racism to distract attention from the epidemic of black rapists who even now are violating the purest of white virgins.

    and…

    I appreciate that nobody would put on a play like this at the Royal Court.

    That is because black people do not secretly rule the world by proxy, while feasting on the blood of children and claiming to be the Chosen People.


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