Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Playwright and performer, Itai Erdal, writes of a day when his eight-year-old Israeli nephew came home from school with an empty box to be filled with goods for soldiers on the front lines. Inside the box the boy’s teacher had written: ‘To the soldiers of today from the soldiers of tomorrow.’ The play examines the conditioning that creates nations that fight, how one person’s beliefs are not that of their homeland and how the ties that bind us to our nationality are difficult and complex.
At the start of the piece, Erdal introduces his friend and musician from Syria, now also living away from his homeland. Evocative music is played throughout and accompanies the script, including drumming – as the story takes various dramatic turns. This is an important message – literal and metaphorical from the start – that relationships can survive across externally created divides. We learn that one of the triggers for writing the play is Erdal’s anger at the expectation of his nephew’s future as a soldier, the way each generation is learning to fight and hate – and the apparent impossibility of breaking this cycle. For the audience, this onstage relationship is important, given the challenges presented in the rest of the piece.
The play is laced with humour: sometimes light and satirical, when Erdal lists the advantages of living in Israel or the ways he tries to avoid going into the army – at other times hard to hear, as when Erdal recounts the Holocaust ‘jokes’ his friends would share at school. The piece is carefully structured, with brilliant re-incorporation and irony at the end of the play when we revisit the beginning – and come full circle, having learned so much. There is also education for the audience when Erdal takes us through – with some irony and considerable speed – the multiple occupiers of the land over time.
Much of the play deals with the profound dilemma of joining the army, and having done so, how far an order from a superior can be refused and to what extent choice of action is an illusion. These are real issues to be resolved here: moral, personal and political. A range of situations are presented theatrically by tight exchanges of dialogue where the sharpness of the debate is tangible and we struggle – alongside Erdal – to see if and how they can be resolved. All the characters are presented by Erdal with truth and authenticity.
The stage space is used effectively to illustrate the environment. A huge colourful physical map extends from the top of the curtain to the edge of the stage to show Israel and its neighbours in the region. At times Erdal uses models of different sizes to represent individuals or soldiers in their geographical location.
There is an extended scene at a border checkpoint which is central to the play and Erdal’s eventual decision to emigrate. The dialogue is fast, taking twists and turns and giving us a real sense of the fragility of the situation and how disastrous a wrong move can be. This first-hand account is utterly compelling and we are on the edge of our seats, awaiting the outcome.
Erdal presents his father’s view of Israel – a safe place for Jews built after the war that he was proud of – with empathy. He then refers to other versions of the establishment of the state and the different narratives that exist for the same set of events. We rarely hear this level of honesty and considered reflection about growing up in Israel in the British media, so this is an important piece to be shown here.
This is a finely-balanced and challenging play about a situation that will not be resolved for the next generation any time soon – with ongoing reverberations for those on the ground and for those in exile.