Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza, and Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen


Presented by Early Worx in theatre and art and Higher Ground
Reviewed Wednesday 14th September 2011

Venue: Higher Ground, Light Square, Adelaide
Season: 7PM nightly to Sun 18th, 2pm Saturday 17th September 2011
Duration: 90mins incl interval
Tickets: All tickets $20
Bookings: 8410 5999

This is a double bill, with both works written by British playwright, Caryl Churchill. The evening began with Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen, originally written as a radio play in 1971 and set in a one room apartment in a tower block in 'The Londons' in the year 2010. Water is in short supply, the air is foul, the smog has killed almost all of the flora and fauna, and what remains if facing extinction. Oxygen is in short supply and, like the water, the supply to residences if limited, unless people can afford to purchase more than their allowance. Roaming gangs of youths set fire to buildings and 'fanatics' kill themselves and others. A license is needed to have a child, and these come either from a lottery, or by purchase. A second child is illegal. All natural resources are running out and life of all sorts is threatened.

Churchill's predictions are not so far from what has happened around the world since 1971. China instituted child control, killing girls in preference to boys and limiting parents to one child. Japan is terribly polluted and overpopulated. The Middle East is in turmoil. Refugees and illegal immigrants are seeking new homes. We are all too aware of the recent rioting, looting and destruction of property in England. Global warming is causing problems world wide. Oil, natural gas, old growth forests and other natural resources cannot be replenished, and will eventually run out. There is corruption at all levels of government, right down to the caretaker of their block. Churchill foreshadowed so much of what we see happening around us now.

As the play begins we discover Mick and Vivian, sitting watching the television. We hear the announcer reporting on chaos and destruction. Mick is 60 and resigned to accepting the world as it is. He is romantically involved with the much younger Vivian, who tells us that she is 30 but believes that she looks younger. She is married, but only stays with her husband so that she has a place to live.

Vivian begins a conversation, in a staccato, broken and repetitive string of words and phrases; almost a verbal shorthand. Oddly, director, Dea Easton, has chosen to ignore the fact that breathing is extremely difficult because the oxygen supply to each flat is insufficient, and so Amy Victoria Brooks delivers her dialogue without all of the gasps for breath that is the intended root cause of Vivian's fragmented dialogue. This also tends to negate the reason for the small spray can of oxygen that she freely administers throughout the play. The reason for this directorial decision is unclear.

That aside, Amy Victoria Brooks and Roger Newcombe offer some superb characterisations and develop a fine rapport in depicting the fragile relationship that exists between Mick and Vivian. These are rich performances that convince and draw the audience into their claustrophobic world.

They are waiting for a visit from the famous Claude Acton, Mick's successful and rich son, one of the last children to be born in 'The Londons'. Mick is expecting Claude to provide him with the money to buy a cottage in the park, where he and Vivian can go to live what they believe will be a more comfortable life. Claude's visit, however, does not go the way that Mick expected. Charles Sanders has a haunted look as Claude, showing us somebody who appears to have lost all incentive and can see nothing worthwhile in the future. The change in the dynamics between Mick and Vivian at his arrival and his news is handled with great sensitivity by Brooks and Newcombe, with Sanders's excellent interpretation of the role of Claude providing just the right catalyst for what follows. These three performances are beautifully balanced and help paint a frightening picture of Churchill's view of what was the, in 1971, the future.

After a short interval, to reset the theatre, came Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza, premièred in 2009. Director, Charles Sanders, has set this almost in the round, bringing all of the audience into close proximity to the performers, who not only work within the central space but beside and behind the audience to further accent that feeling of being a part of the action.

This work has been surrounded by controversy, branded immediately as anti-Semitic, a claim fuelled by the fact that Churchill is a patron of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Countering this, some prominent Jewish people, such as the actress Miriam Margolies, have argued otherwise. It was written as a response to the 2008-9 Israeli military strikes on Gaza and the play is available free to anybody who wishes to stage it as long as patrons are requested to make a donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians. Playwright, Israel Horovitz, wrote a play in response to this work, entitled What Strong Fences Make. What an interesting programme a pairing of both plays would make. Other responses that members of the audiences might want to read after seeing this though provoking production are the plays, Seven Palestinian Children, The Eighth Child and Seven Other Children. No doubt many saw the fine production of My Name is Rachel Corrie that was presented in Adelaide recently.

Not wanting to become embroiled in this controversy, which would require a lot of time and space analysing and evaluating this play, I will focus purely on the performance and leave the analytical and emotional responses to the audiences.

The play begins with a child, Jeanquille Kumar, sitting alone. She rises and leaves the venue, a darkened cellar with small patches of dim lighting. The voices begin. The play is written simply as a series of lines, leaving the director to decide how many performers to use and who is given which line. Most lines begin with the words “Tell her….” or “Don't tell her….”. It covers 70 years, from the holocaust to today, including somebody leaving their home in the west and being confronted by anything but the Jewish ancestral homeland that they expected when they arrive in Jerusalem.

The cast, Amy Victoria Brooks, Dea Easton, Roger Newcombe and Chrissie Page, are a marvellous ensemble, each seeming to set up for the following line to progressively build the impact and discomfort of the ideas expounded. The climax is a stunning monologue from Chrissie Page that carries enormous weight, aided by this progressive string of carefully crafted sentences delivered with great understanding by the performers. Sander's direction is impeccable.

In seemingly discussing what one does, or does not tell a child, this play actually addresses a huge range of topics, including prejudice, hatred, violence and, in dealing with the child, indoctrination, passing on the attitudes of the parents and perpetuating the problems facing the world today.

This is a magnificent piece of theatre and definitely should not be missed, but hurry to book as seating is limited and the production closes on Sunday.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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