The final teaching day of the programme today, which for us meant performance. Or rather performances. The only possible “theatre” was outside in the playground, and though in theory this meant a huge space, the narrow section sheltered from the burning sun had to be shared by both performers and a small audience. This meant three separate performances, one after another.
It was also the first time we had worked in that space – until now, it had been in constant use for sports and games. It all added a few extra degrees of difficulty to the learning curve, and meant that the logistics of the day were pretty tight. So it didn’t help, either the cast or my stress levels, that we arrived at school late.
As to how it all went? Well, it depends upon your perspective. From my point of view, it had something of the charm, but also the limitations, of a primary school nativity play; the focus of the desperately inexperienced cast was decidedly mixed. On the other hand, there were touches of a far greater theatrical sophistication; as one of the teachers at the school said, Chris and Val achieved a great deal with very little. Focusing on the basic skills of theatre rather than the external trappings has always been my preferred approach. There was mime, augmented by a few simple props; bits of physical theatre – the woods, a panther, the old standby of a standing bed, created by a blanket and a pillow; and utilising what the children could already do: a simple dance, some impressive acrobatics, a final song. And I should pay credit to Val’s contribution of percussion to add atmosphere: for example, birdsong and rustling trees, switching to dramatic pounding drums for the confrontation with the panther.
The language barrier also affected my appreciation. I was one narrator, in English, providing the most basic of structures, and my words were then echoed by my two Arabic counterparts, the wonderful volunteers Jana and Avo, who also marshalled their two “tribes”. But all of the dialogue was in Arabic, and I had no possibility of understanding whether the actors were even saying (more or less) the right words, let alone saying them well.
And yet. And yet. The power of theatre lies in its ability to impact an audience, not in its precision. Or lack of it. And in that sense it certainly had an effect, with many members of the audience expressing their real appreciation, to the extent, so they told us, of being moved close to tears.
And it had its powerful moments: the market sellers selling their wares; the peddler’s daughter hurling a (mime) stone into the air to create a distraction; the black panther stalking his human prey…
So was it a success? Was it theatrical? Were we proud of it? Yes, and yes, and yes.