Brighton Fringe 2018
“A passionate, storytelling show with live cinematic music about war and peace, acts of heroism, and the love for life.”
I’ve seen a lot of war shows. Plays, musicals, cabarets, even stand-up comedy about almost every conflict you can think of. The world wars and the wars of the world are not new territory on the performance circuit. But leafing through the Fringe schedule this one particularly caught my attention. Passionate storytelling with live cinematic music and a production team all the way from Amsterdam. This was something I needed to investigate. How would they be able to balance the horrors of war with a love for life? I had to find out.
As we entered the theatre we could hear the music already filtering down the passage towards us. A strange melange of rock guitar and what sounded like Klezmer dances punctuated by the occasional saxophone interlude. I had visions of some kind of strange conglomeration of Schindler’s List, Apocalypse Now, and Miss Saigon. More and more intriguing. I truly had no idea of what to expect. But then isn’t that what theatre should be? A journey of discovery for both the audience and the actors?
My Father Held A Gun is all about discovery. The twists and turns we encounter on the path through life and the unexpected pitfalls and potholes we may encounter along the way. From the moment we walk into the relatively nondescript and unadorned space, we strangely feel that somehow we are part of something bigger than ourselves. And we are. From the first word of the performance Sahand Sahebdivani & Raphael Rodan engage us on an intimate level, challenging us to find answers, to look inside our own hearts and minds and find what we truly think, what we truly feel, while throwing political correctness and British politeness out of the door. There is no space here for fluff or existential debate.
We are here to answer the question “Why do men make war?”. “When you think about all the wars our world has seen – how many times were they started by women?” Instantly images of the Falklands War flash into my head and I picture Margaret Thatcher facing off against the Argentinian administration, epic cinematography running through my mind as a soundtrack from the MTV generation plays. But we are not here to talk about that, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and we’re running short on time.
As the live stage music (brilliantly orchestrated and performed by Guillermo Celano & Iman Spaargaren) fades we meet Sahand and Raphael, our disarmingly charming and wonderfully witty storytelling hosts for the night. This already does not seem like your run-of-the-mill war drama. Almost as if this is an improvisation, the men energetically introduce us to some family background, themselves, and why they are here, and where, of course, they came from. But in this there’s a question. Breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the audience we are asked to try and identify which of the men was from Israel and which from Iran. An easy task? Perhaps. If you think you can gain the correct designation by making judgements based only on looks. But how often do we do that?
The point of the question is, as you might expect, to validate the maxims ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and ‘assuming things just makes an ass of you and me’. The majority of the audience get it wrong. And why? Because we make judgements based on superficial data? Because we swing back to an accepted stereotype which in many cases does not actually apply? In the relative anonymity of the theatre we can often hide in plain sight and hope that no one asks us anything directly. But that’s not the case here and the audience is engaged from the first beat until the last breath.
Raphael and Sahand take us on a narrative journey through a series of stories, expertly guiding us through their own personal history as well as some of our own. We are poignantly reminded of the Christmas football match in no man’s land and the soldiers singing carols together before returning to the trenches and continuing to maim and kill each other. “Can’t we just create an atom bomb of peace?” we’re asked. “If one man can put down his gun, why can’t another?” It seems that the greatest act of courage is not in picking up the gun, but having the strength and resolve to put it down in the face of inevitable carnage and destruction.
In our current political climate with the seemingly constant barrage of news which fills our inboxes, peppers our television channels, and posts to our social media, we could be forgiven for passing over a show like this opting for something ‘easier’, perhaps, or ‘more accessible’. Switch your brain off entertainment can be very attractive at times. But this is not that time. My Father Held A Gun is somewhat of an enigma, a chameleon, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It lures you into a false sense of security with projected camaraderie and big smiles, while all the time just waiting to punch you in the gut. This production is engaging, beautiful, painful, political, amusing, abusing, confusing, and amazing. Run, do not walk, to the projected battlefield but leave your armor behind. This is about stripping away everything you have perceived, tearing up the rule book, putting down your weapons, lowering your defenses, forgiving our differences, and finding a new direction for moving forward together.
“Peace and love toward humanity shouldn’t be nationalistic or denominational. It should be a chief concern for all mankind.”
– Mos Def