Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Theatre review: new play Endurance “hits home the power of hope and defiance”


By Ipek Ozerim

As we come to terms with the Charleston Church Massacre, the police brutality at last week’s Istanbul Gay Pride and news of another flotilla trying to break the inhumane sea block on Gaza, Endurance: Through Their Eyes could not be more timely. A year in the making, this new political drama comprises three stories about three very different human rights struggles from across the ages – slavery, gay rights, and Palestine – blended into one powerful 60-minute play.

Each story takes centre stage for short bursts, told through the experiences of the chief protagonists who are forced to endure systematic abuse simply because of their skin colour, sexual orientation or ethnicity. We empathise with each, acutely feeling their pain as their cruel worlds inch towards a common finale that hits home the power of hope and defiance. If you haven’t got tears in your eyes at the end, then you left your heart at home.

Dirty brown and white boards (Helen Quinn – set designer) serve as the backdrop to a slave plantation, and the dirty back streets of London and Gaza. They throb to the sounds of music skilfully woven by composer Gianluca Cucchiara who transports you between worlds, from the hauntingly beautiful ezan after another child is killed in Palestine to the Skiffle beats of Soho in the 1950s, and the gospel singing of the Deep South.

Markaiu Mason plays Adam, whose story is based on the real-life account of Adam Halabiya in East Jerusalem. Adam reflects the frustrations of a typical young Palestinian man: however hard he tries to lead a regular, fun life (after winning a game of football, he jokes he looks and plays just like Ronaldo) he cannot avoid the rage as he is humiliated again and again by Israeli soldiers.

Louis Krommenhoek is James, a young talented gay journalist struggling to fit into the heterosexual hipster world of post-war London. It’s hard to believe in 2015, but just sixty years ago any hint of homosexuality in Britain would get you kicked out of your job and most likely prosecuted, which could result in anything from imprisonment to chemical castration. 

Shenay Stephenson.
Photo: TSK Productions
The lead for the final instalment about Virginia, a black domestic slave in Louisiana, is rotated between Kaya Mathews and Shenay Stephenson. It was Stephenson’s turn on our night and she was outstanding. To survive as the mere ‘property’ of a lustful plantation owner and his jealous wife in the Deep South is about enduring the ongoing verbal abuse, the beatings and the rapes.

Virginia’s tender soul is exposed, along with her fierce defiance. She’s offered a glimmer of hope by news of Abraham Lincoln’s proposed reforms, but dare she put her hopes for a free life into the efforts of a “white man”?

At times the storyline is a little too obvious, but its easy to move beyond this as you are so absorbed by the passion and presence of this young cast, predominantly under 25 (the youngest – Liam Perez – is just 15-years-old) who all impress.

Talking to some of them after their Tuesday performance, it is clear few had much awareness of theses critical histories prior to their involvement in the play. That they harness the essence of the struggles so convincingly says much about the nurturing talents of RAaW – the production company behind the play.

An award-winning film and theatre company, RAaW is led by Erim Metto (also a director at the Turkish Cypriot Community Association in Harringay) and his partner Robbi Stevens. The idea for Endurance came to Stevens last year as she watched the War on Gaza unfold. In her programme notes, she says she sees theatre and film as a means of making “people feel closer to the struggle”, and sets out to show the “extreme darkness” with a mixture of “humour and subtlety”.

As much educational as it is art, Endurance: Through Their Eyes leaves the audience with a deep shame about humanity and yet also strangely uplifted. The play and cast deserve a longer run and a far bigger platform.

Runs until: Friday 03 July 2015
Times: Thu: 4.30pm, 6.30pm & 8.30pm. Fri: 6.30pm & 8.30pm
Duration: 60 minutes (no interval)
Address:  Tristan Bates Theatre, 1a Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP
Ticket prices: £15 (£10 concs)
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