The scribblings and sketches of Miriam Gillinson, arts journalist
'Scenes from 68* Years' review or 'I think something's gone off in the fridge...'
'Scenes from 68* Years', Hannah Khalil Arcola Theatre, 11th April 2016 Written for Time Out
‘Scenes from 68* Years’ isn’t what you think it is. Yes, Hannah Khalil’s latest is about life in occupied Palestine, but isn’t an issue play and it isn’t (until the final scene) a polemic. Instead, this is a powerful yet tender collection of everyday vignetttes, which explores the human impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a deeply compassionate play, performed with real heart and humour.
The action spans 1948 to the present and a six-strong cast (plus one Palestinian actress plugged in via Skype) play a range of Israeli and Arab characters. The chronology is choppy and Paul Burgess’s set makeshift; a precarious barricade of computer screens, tables and chairs. This is a world in which a sense of time and place are unstable and homes can be built – or destroyed – in an instant.
Director Chris White creates an environment in which danger and domesticity live cheek by jowl (tear gas billows out of fridge) and everyone is forced to make do (two chairs become a taxi). White encourages a palpable sense of community from his talented cast, who are on stage throughout and all-but cheer each other on. Every actor excels but Peter Polycarpou – stunningly funny yet vulnerable – stands out. In one brilliant scene, he plays an Arab grandfather who jumps for joy when a prankster tells him the occupation is over. Polycarpou’s shift from ecstasy to sorrow – as he realises the joke is on him – is one I will struggle to forget.
A stream of memorable scenes runs through ‘68* Years’: endlessly interrupted picnics, sexual fantasies infused with danger, ghastly tours of homes forcibly abandoned and taxi drives that will make you shudder. The Skype scenes with Palestinian actress Maisa Abd Elhadi slow things down a little– and are one of the few forced moments in an authentic and moving production.