Jerusalem is verdant, serene and bubbling with life writes Eleanor Buchan, as 1927 visits in Israel as part of its world tour
1927 on tour – Israel
When we arrive to perform at the Israel Festival it is early summer and the air is blessedly cool after the claustrophobic heat of the previous month's tour of China. The British Council have brought us here to be part of this festival, which is now over 50 years old and boasts an impressive line-up. We are very pleased to be invited. Our stay here is heartbreakingly brief, so we try to soak up as much as possible, heading into the Old City to drink fresh orange juice and haggle over the intricately carved wooden flutes. Jerusalem is verdant, serene and bubbling with life.
Our festival contact is the irrepressible Vova, whose love of life is as palpable as his gentleness is profound. He guides us onward to the theatre where we plunge out of the sunlight and into the hands of one of the most efficient technical teams I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They are astonishingly handsome (which is always cheering) and they move with determined assurance through the trials and tribulations of our get-in. We use projections, which need to be irritatingly specific, but this doesn't phase our hosts and we are back in the sunshine before we know it. Vova takes us for lunch at a small cafe that spills over onto the pavement with gracefully hip young Israelis. He introduces us to creamy hummus and good falafel – not the very best in the city, he tells us, but close. Vova lives on kibbutz in the south of Israel where he farms dates. The evident pleasure he has for life makes him good company. We are utterly contented.
We open the show to generous, attentive audiences who are not shy to roar approval. The British Council hosts a Q&A after the first show and in the audience are friends of mine from the theatre company Habima. I met them when I welcomed them to London as part of the Globe to Globe festival, where they played their extraordinary production of The Merchant of Venice. With them is my old drama school tutor from London, who is now engaged to Shylock's Jessica as a result of that festival – a delightful international union. We eat dinner with the British Council who introduce us to people from the local performing arts scene, among them Dmitry Tyulpan from Clipa Theatre and theatre-maker Gabrielle Neuhaus. We spend the evening happily with these old and new friends, discussing art and theatre.
The next day's audience includes Anat, another new Israeli friend. She is about the same age as my parents and we meet on the plane to Tel Aviv and share stories. I learn much from her about living a life based on intelligent enquiry without judgement. She attends the show and comes to coffee in the company of Nili and Zvika, the parents of a good friend who have come from Tel Aviv to see the show. I care greatly for these two and find I can't stop hugging them. We drink coffee on a terrace overlooking the Old City and Zvika makes sure I eat his pastry so I'm not hungry for the evening performance.
I'm keen to know whether the show is of interest to its audience here. It's a story of social unrest, where hopeless people are condemned by their own apathy and the system's rigidity – based on London but with universal resonance. It's a very funny show but a searing indictment on society's inadequacies. I ask my friends how they think the play is received here. Nili (who has carefully saved me all the press clippings) suggests that Israelis don't have the luxury of worrying about social issues when national ones dominate. Towards the end of the show the audience are asked to choose which ending they would prefer: 'Realistic' or 'Idealistic'. They always choose the idealistic, but the autonomy is a fallacy and disappointment unfolds despite the audience’s wishes. Anat points out that this prevents theatre from acting as a sedative, urging action instead. Then, on our final morning, Lewis leads a workshop with the Nissan Nativ School of Acting and the students are bright, attentive and enthusiastic. At the closing Q&A a young woman asks us if we feel responsible for bringing a story without hope to this country. It's a question that reveals so much about what we want from art.
On our final morning Sue and I walk for hours along the ramparts of the Old City, stopping in the shade of a tiny stone alcove to listen to the muezzin call. Sweat runs down our backs. When I return to the hotel later that morning I will find my feet black with grime swept up from the street by my long skirt. Pilgrim feet. We leave the walls at Damascus Gate and wend our way through the Old City to follow the Stations of the Cross. We end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where I buy a large bundle of candles and dedicate the lighting of each one to those I love and care for. I also dedicate one to the show, that it's life may be long and one for the city, for standing the test of time. And then another for the festival for bringing the two together.
With thanks to all British Council Israel for their care of us during our visit.
Following huge success at the British Council's 2011 Edinburgh Showcase, theatre company 1927 has taken its multi-media show, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, to countries including: Australia, France, Ireland, Croatia, Nigeria, UAE, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, USA, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Jordan, Spain, Israel, Russia, Latvia, Italy and Austria. You can follow the current tour on this blog, as Eleanor shares experiences in other countries, too, and on Twitter @1927Productions. Keep up to date with other British Council Theatre and Dance projects and blogs @UKTheatreDance.