A Land Without People

A Land Without People, playing at the Courtyard, is an attempt to show on stage the events leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948. Always a contentious subject, with the modern-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict well documented in the news, I was intrigued by how Palindrome Productions would handle this tricky topic.

Performed 70 years after the end of World War II, during which two-thirds of European Jews were murdered, Brian Rotman’s play incorporates careful historical research to explore, in a series of chronological scenes, the big events and behind-the-scenes wrangling that led up to the declaration. With scenes taking place in politicians’ offices, wartime fronts and the House of Commons, the subject matter could have been dull and dry, but instead it was utterly compelling, fascinating to listen to.

Directed by Lesley Ferris, the play employed a small cast of five who deliver superb performances throughout. In particular, I thought that Sifiso Mazibuko excelled as Chaim Weizmann and Jules Brown was excellent as Malcolm Mcdonald, setting a high standard in the very first scene. Roy Khalil was moving as David Ben-Gurion, and powerful as Winston Churchill. Elena Voce was also excellent as Gurion’s wife and Tracey-Anne Liles handled the puppet of Fahimeh Ali Mustafa Zeidan superbly. The colour-blind and gender-blind casting employed throughout emphasised the common humanity of all of the characters in the drama.

I learned a great deal from this production: about the British involvement in Palestine and the “Jewish question”, the United Nations proposal to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab territories, and how the horrific treatment of Jews by the Nazis fuelled the argument in favour of a Jewish homeland, as well as how Zionist terrorists overthrew British rule and inflicted atrocities of their own on the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. I was impressed by how balanced the play was, demonstrating arguments from both sides without lecturing, and not simplifying the issues.

This is a superb play and well worth seeing, whether you are interested in the subject matter or not. The writing, acting and directing are first class – a hugely worthwhile production.

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