Bethlehem is a holy place. This is something the Church of the Nativity's tour guide makes clear when he steps from the audience in the Palestine refugee camp based Freedom Theatre's production of Nabil Al-Raee's new play, created and directed with Zoe Lafferty, which closes its UK tour at the Tron this week. But it can be other things too. It is in the church's confines, after all, where a group of machine-gun wielding young men seek sanctuary from a hostile Israeli army intent on desecration of a different kind.
Inside, amidst sporadic bursts of gunfire, the men noisily hold their own alongside a smattering of priests, nuns and others caught in the cross-fire of a very unholy war. As the men settle in for the long haul, tensions rise and fall, with a sense of solidarity coming from gallows humour as much as the soul-sapping fatalities and concerns beyond themselves that eventually sees them acquiesce to their captors and the exile that follows.
Based on real events in 2002 seen here on film and developed from interviews with its survivors, Al-Raee and Lafferty's creation becomes a microcosm for how the city beyond the church's consecrated ground is similarly besieged by oppressive forces. As performed by an all male cast of six, there is an impassioned partisan rawness to what follows, as we flit between the siege itself and the men's lives afterwards far from their homeland. The latter is told simply and directly without contrition, and when the tour guide takes a selfie with the entire audience, it's as if the entire world is captured in its light.
The Herald, June 19th 2015