Freedom Theatre defies all odds to tell their “absolutely compelling” story

Discussion with The Freedom Theatre from Jenin

As the Freedom Theatre’s first ever UK tour draws to a close, we are proud to be able to post a short film (27 minutes) offering insights into the experience of members of the company, and also the audiences who have flocked to see The Siege at 10 venues from Manchester to Hastings, Colchester to Glasgow, where the tour ends on June 20.

The play tells the story of a group of armed men who sought sanctuary in arguably the world’s holiest site, the Church of the Holy Nativity, in Bethlehem in 2002. Based in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, Freedom Theatre rose out of the resistance to Israeli occupation, survived the brutal killing of its founder Juliano Mer Khamis, and continues to exemplify Palestinian cultural resistance in the face of intimidation and harrassment, which even followed it to the UK.

Filmed at the post-performance panel discussion after their first show at London’s Battersea Arts Centre on May 19, the video makes inspiring viewing for supporters of Palestinian artistic expression, whether or not they have seen the play itself.

Theatre director Hilary Westlake of Artists for Palestine UK chaired a question and answer session with Freedom Theatre actor Faisal Abu Alheja, artistic director Nabil al-Raee and co-director Zoe Laverty, British actor Samuel West and comedian/activist Jeremy Hardy.

The audience responded warmly as company members explained the gestation of the play, put together from factual testimony by those involved in the siege, and talked about the role of theatre in the life of their community.

Faisal Abu Alheja explained that Jenin was traditionally a garden city, now deprived of the chance to enjoy the region’s fertility.

“If we can no longer grow our grapes and watermelons,” he said, “let us make art and talk about it.”

Samuel West called the performance “absolutely compelling” and said: “The real power of the evening is that you have this story running through you like rock, and we always believe you.”

Jeremy Hardy, who was in Bethlehem at the time of the events portrayed in the play, described it as “political theatre at its very best.”

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