When Israel becomes a normal country, let us know

The storm in a teacup over the upcoming Melbourne reading of Seven Jewish Children is challenged by one of the stars of the performance, Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes, in today’s Age:

SEVEN Jewish Children is a very moving piece by a writer I have worked with before, a very good writer. It encapsulates the problems of the Israelis and the Palestinians in a very clever way that agrees with my personal perspective.

When I was asked to do this by Australians for Palestine, I was glad of the chance.

I was in the original cast of Caryl Churchill’s play Cloud Nine in 1980, and we’ve remained friends, although not close friends-we’ve been in touch. She asked me to perform in the English production of Seven Jewish Children, but I was abroad at the time, and that’s why I wasn’t in the original production. But I was asked to be in it, so I was pleased when I was asked to do it here.

I think it’s a very good piece of writing. I wouldn’t do it if I thought it was crap. Even if I agreed with it, I wouldn’t do it if I thought it was crap, because you can’t ask people to come and watch crap.

I was first asked if I would do it as a one-woman show, but I’ve done one-woman shows and I don’t want to do it that way, I want to work with other people. So I asked Max Gillies, and I asked two members of the cast of the play I am in now, and one of them is the partner of the actor Alison Bell, and she is doing it.We all believe it is a good play.

The idea of Caryl Churchill being anti-Semitic in any way is ludicrous. It didn’t occur to me that it was anti-Semitic when I read the play, and I was astonished when the journalist interviewing me for The Age mentioned that it had been regarded as anti-Semitic.

My hope now is that the play stimulates dialogue on anti-Semitism, which is a very real thing, and that it focuses some attention on the situation in the Middle East, which fills me with despair at the moment.

Performing the play is really just a way to get people to sit down and talk and think about the issue.

The fact that we are finding it terribly, terribly difficult to get anybody from the Israeli perspective to come and debate it shows how hard it is to get dialogue going.

I don’t think anyone needs to be provocative, but this is a contentious issue. There are two sides to it, and I think the play shows that very clearly, which is why it is a terrific piece of theatre.

I’m not interested in agitprop, I’m interested in drama. I think it’s dramatic.

My opinions on Israel have certainly never rebounded on my career, although I was going to do a tour of the United States with Vanessa Redgrave in Lettuce and Lovage, and the invitation was withdrawn because of Vanessa’s stance on Palestine. She is, of course, far more famous than I am.

One of the things that I didn’t expect was that the Australian Jewish community would find it impossible to have a dialogue.

Is this play critical of Israel? Yes, it is, very critical of Israel. That doesn’t mean it is anti-Semitic.

Can theatre make a difference? I hope it can, because otherwise I have wasted my whole life in something irrelevant.

I don’t know that it can immediately change things, but it can make people think, stop and think for a minute. Our job as artists is to try to extend or widen the vision of an individual so they can see for a moment what it is like to be a Palestinian.

Jews sometimes see it only from the Jewish point of view.Maybe Palestinians see it only from the Palestinian point of view.Maybe this is a way of hopefully trying to make people see it through another’s eyes. I would gladly perform in it again.

Seven Jewish Children will be performed in a free reading at the State Library on Monday, followed by a discussion.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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