Thursday, 29 July 2021

REVIEW: My Jerusalem by Avital Raz streamed on Applecart Arts

Jerusalem is one of the most inspiring, complex, and scary cities I have ever visited. On our trip for a day’s visit in the summer of 1990, we saw the spectacular sites in the city as we were escorted up Via Dolorosa from the Wailing Wall to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with armed escorts in front and behind. Such tourist visits hardly begin to explain the extraordinary tensions that must be felt in the city as the three cultures of Christians, Jews and the Palestinians mingle on a daily basis. Avital Raz who has written and performed this piece was brought up in this place and describes 1989 (when she was 11) as a time when “scary shit was all over the country” with stabbings, kidnappings, bus passenger deaths and competing terrorist groups. In her one-hour monologue accompanying herself on guitar with a multitude of filmed and still images, she starts to explain her story and provide insight into that place.

She was raised by her Imma (mother) and Abba (father) in Israel in the eighties and nineties and her autobiographical words tell of her relationship with her parents, her grandmother, her school choir, adolescent crushes, bus rides and conscription into the Israeli army. In 2013 she wrote a song in which she tells in shockingly graphic terms about a drunken one-night stand between a young Israeli woman and a Palestinian man and that song that punctuates her story. This piece seeks to put the song in context through her own recollections.

The recording was captured at the Manchester Jewish Museum in March 2020 and is shot over the heads of the audience as if an archive recording of the show. The projected images on the wall behind her are intriguing but it is not always clear to me on the relevance and irritatingly in close-ups, we see the projections across her face. The video footage by Chris Davis is largely black and white and a mixture of archive footage and specially captured films. The lighting design by Tamsin Drury was for the live performance and not a captured film. The photography by Jimmy Spaceman has many poignant images but most significantly is the Holocaust Memorial sculpture that she stands in front of to open and close the show. The audio has an echoey sound and some of her words get lost.

Applecart Arts who present the show say they believe that stories are potent and have the power to challenge, change and strengthen communities and that this piece seeks to engage, inspire, and entertain. Yet it presents a fairly bleak intense reflection on the past in a largely monotone way and offers no hope for change. There is a sense that it means more to those who know the city well and the cultures within it, with the songs often sung in Hebrew. As an outsider, I wanted to be drawn in behind the tourist view & headlines to gain more understanding and to see how the communities could change and strengthen. 

It is a serious piece full of good intent offering one perspective on the city and the past and we all must hope for an end to the cycle of terror and madness that hangs over the city and country. Raz is a confident performer with a powerful strong voice and a fearless approach to storytelling that at times is uncomfortable viewing, but the joy of streamed content is that we can hear these voices and their messages, and that process will help bring greater understanding and hope to a wider audience.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £15

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