Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon spoke to the playwright about his new play Semites, playing at the Bunker Theatre for a limited run.
Could you explain what Semites is about and the themes explored? Semites is about exploring the thoughts and views of people living an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances. It’s about challenging people’s preconceptions, challenging the preconceptions most usually provided by the media which sees most stories, in a linear and simplistic way, and this conflict is anything but simple! It’s also exploring the value of really listening, really knowing someone, and really understanding their legitimate fears, however repellent we might find it.
How did the idea for this play come about? I was in a play in 2011, which also explored the Israeli Palestinian conflict. And what started as a collaborative, productive ensemble, slowly unravelled until members of the cast retreated to ‘a side’. At one of the post show discussions, facilitated by a Palestinian and an Israeli, which the cast including myself was invited to, the anti-Israel feeling in the room became toxic. I was bruised and battered by the experience, and it began a journey of trying to work out what it all means, and how I can ‘do my bit’ – I concluded that a verbatim theatre experience telling real stories from those on the ground, was the best way to do it.
You carried out three years’ worth of research – how did you then decide which pieces of it to use for the play in terms of what you wanted to say? The editing process was extremely challenging. Not only the time and concentration required to filter the best bits from 48 hours worth of material. But also, to transpose it all. It also became very clear, very quickly, how powerful the role of an editor is, how by removing one word, or phrase, how putting one thought next to another thought, how the whole meaning can change as a result. But I’m very confident I’ve remained true to every speaker, after all I feel an immense duty and responsibility to all those people who showed me so much hospitality, honesty and courage.
Was there anything in particular in your research that stood out for you? I think how one event can be seen so differently from either side. 1948 is a great example. Or we could choose 1967. On one side 1948 represents the birth of a nation, a triumph over adversity. And on the other, it’s the Nakba, the catastrophe, a tragedy. Both are fact, both are legitimate. And these two peoples, who live side by side, see this same event completely differently, a difference of opinion, of perception. The same could be said of 1967, and the extraordinary victory against the odds, and the reclaim of Jerusalem after 2000 years of exile. But for the Palestinians 1967 is the beginning of the occupation, which still exists today.
What are you hoping audiences will take away from the show? I’m hoping audiences will leave wondering whether this conflict is much more complicated than they thought, or at least more complicated than the media portrays. Also, I hope that audiences can reflect, that whether it’s Brexit, Trump or something else, people behave in ways, often repellent to us, that originate from fear, a legitimate fear. And that the ability to listen to others, can start to erode that fear, and begin a process of transformation, of understanding, of reconciliation.
What can audiences perhaps expect? Come and see for yourself!
By Emma Clarendon
Semites will play at the Bunker Theatre until the 3rd November before heading to Bristol for a run at The Loco Klub.