There is an unmistakable air of uneasiness in The Coronet Theatre as I take my seat; something taut and sinister that waits, primed in the shadowy auditorium. The walls reveal bare plaster and ashen bricks beneath flaking red paint, unintentionally setting a highly convincing scene for warfare and destruction. Of communities abandoned, and homes lost.
On stage, four chairs surround a long wooden table, and upon it are microphones and cameras. It almost mimics a press conference or political summit, but we all know that no peace will be negotiated tonight.
A Letter to a Friend in Gaza takes its name from Albert Camus’ piece of the same title, and is part documentary and part poetry reading by Amos Gitai. It offers his meditations on the tragic and brutal Israel and Palestine conflict, as well as hearing from those for whom it is an everyday reality. The poems are read by Palestinian and Israeli men and women and are accompanied by authentic Palestinian and Israeli musicians. Occasionally, a shot of one of the readers appears on the back wall, their faces almost incapable of carrying that much sadness. It is a powerful comment on common humanity, division, the innate cruelty of war, justice and belonging.
Poems are performed in both Arabic and Hebrew with English translations projected onto the wall. The words wash over the audience both as complex as the waltzing curves of a prayer mat and sweet as dates. Yet they are words of profound sadness, of regret and loss, of horrified children levelling accusations at their remorseless parents. We see souls bared and it is heartbreaking.
However, the emotional payoff is somewhat obscured by overly long portions of film that would benefit from being heavily curated and structured to support the narrative. Shots of refugee camps, land being torn up by tanks, and Palestinian protests are moving, but do linger aimlessly without any direction for minutes at a time.
The musical interludes are by far the most striking of the piece. As the accordion inflates, it is as though the room is united in a gasping breath. The violin is so mournful one might actually believe it was crying out with grief.
Audible voices from the sound booth throughout often invade some poignant moments, which is a real shame. Audience members distractedly turn around several times. Nevertheless, this is an incredibly provocative piece that endeavours to uncover the devastation of war in a unique and impactful way.
A Letter to a Friend in Gaza is playing at The Coronet Theatre until 23 November. For more information and tickets, visit The Coronet Theatre website.