CAITLIN DOHERTY regains some faith in Cambridge Theatre after this collection of pertinent and political pieces. All for charity too.

Caitlin Doherty Caryll Churchill Catastrophes Corpus Playroom Israel map Medical Aid for Palestinians Palestine Patrick Garety Political Tom de Freston


Corpus Playroom, 2nd May, 9pm, Free


Collaborative and openly political theatre makes a stimulating change from the usual dominance of Shakespeare, Chekhov and Stoppard in Cambridge. Last night’s performance of Catastrophes ought to be commended for providing student writers with the opportunity to stage their responses to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, while also raising awareness and funds for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Of the ten sections of new writing and ‘conversation’ that formed Catastrophes, the standout pieces were invariably those which made the conflict the implicit background to their drama, rather than the explicit subject material.

Niall Wilson’s Nothing (dir. Leonie James) succeeded in reminding its audience that beyond the media coverage of tanks, rockets and intifada, the banality of everyday life continues: women play cards in cafes and tell jokes, even if a reporter is hovering over their conversation in search of a soundbite.

The simple inclusion of Ami Jones as a bored child engrossed in a paper airplane was a piece of writing and stagecraft that elevated Nothing above the level of melodramatically intense conversation about Zionism – a theme of the night’s weaker pieces and one that proved to be the downfall of Tamara Micner’s Left, in particular.

Photographs by Siana Bangura

Quake, by Siân Docksey was brilliant in both writing and performance, despite being only a rehearsed reading of a work in progress. The five actors involved brought life to the flashes of character that flitted in and out of the piece, whose dramatic structure facilitated the creation of a poignant and funny soundscape based around the bombing of the King David hotel.

Neither didactic nor disengaged from the political context of its material, Quake exemplified artist Tom de Freston’s assertion that art should challenge its audience to think and learn independently of the artist’s own belief system.

The conversation between de Freston and Dr. Ang Swee Chai was another notable highlight of Catastrophes, during which the importance of cultural support for displaced Palestinians was discussed whilst well-deserved attention was drawn to de Freston’s remarkable paintings ‘Dead Son’ and ‘Blind Father’ which lined the playroom walls.

Caryll Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children was well-executed vocally by the six actors involved, though was at its best when it abandoned its pretences of staging moments of naturalistic family conversation in favour of a line of dissenting voices.

The two-hander Seven Oranges, written by Leonie James, provided yet another example of how good storytelling exceeds dramatised polemic, as two documentary-style monologues segued into a conversation on the loss of a child.

Performed only weeks after the murder of the Israeli-Palestinian activist and founder of the Freedom Theatre, Juliano Mer-Khamis, Catastrophes was above all a pertinent reminder of the freedom and associated responsibility that those of us living beyond the threat of massacre, military occupation and displacement from our homes have to create politically informed art.

As Dr Ang Swee Chai remarked of her work assisting Palestinian refugees: “artistic support can heal people in a way antibiotics and food never could” and it was affirming to see talented members of the Cambridge theatrical scene focus their attentions and energies onto work that engaged with one of the most divisive ideological debates of our time.