“This green landscape was naked brown soil, the earth burned by the remorseless sun which had brought the drought and famine which cauterised this entire land There were tanks and men with guns everywhere. It felt a menacing place, in many more ways than one.”When we got to this valley it was dusk. We were only minutes away from one of Ethiopia’s most antique cultural capitals, the little town of Lalibela which is the site of a breathtaking series of underground churches hewn by hand from the rock of the ancient plateau. So why stop here?
Geldof got out of the car and walked over to the side of the road. “This is the place,” he said, and then stared silently into the valley for what seemed like an age It was 20 years since he first came to this spot. The then Marxist government of Ethiopia had wanted to show the place off to him, partly because of its history, but mainly because they had just taken it from the rebel army in what felt like an interminable civil war It was 1985.
“Pull over here.” At the side of the road was a broad sweeping valley, a green patchwork of fields that stretched out of sight in either direction. It looked indistinguishable from a hundred others we had passed on our long journey through the Abyssinian highlands. It seemed a funny place to stop But Bob Geldof was clear “Here,” he snapped. But the cast are united by an anti-occupation ethos; they are of a generation marked as teenagers by the rising hopes and then the crushing disappointments of the Oslo agreement era.Despite the darkness of much of the work, and her own admission that the audience probably “only come half-way with us”, Ronen suggests there are some grounds for optimism in the mutual understanding the cast built among themselves through “real honesty and real dialogue” in rehearsal. “Of course if we can do it, and the audience get involved, they will be able to do it too.” She cites one minor example.
In one scene, the dead Palestinian child’s distraught mother compellingly played by Raida Adon, composes herself for the TV cameras to say how happy and proud she was to have a “martyred” son before lapsing back into inconsolable grief. Ronen says that in the discussion after one performance a Jewish high school pupil aged 16 “said that she had seen this so often before, but now she understood what the mother was really feeling”.. But she agrees that it is Israelis who have the most to learn from Plonter.”Unlike for Palestinians what’s happening is not a matter of everyday life for them. They have the privilege of behaving as if [the occupation] didn’t exist every moment of the day, until, that is, a terror attack comes to their doorstep and then they say ‘What do you want from us, why are you trying to kill us.’” For a symbolic taste of Palestinian life, theatre-goers arriving at the play have to submit their ID to two aggressive actors in soldiers’ uniforms.It has already been shown to Arab and Jewish schoolchildren, in an experiment that the Cameri is busily seeking sponsorship to expand.The play doesn’t seek to come up with a detailed peace plan.