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Where the Streets Had a Name - Monkey Baa

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by Emma Jane Explores (Emma Caldwell) (subscribe)
I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
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The human side of conflict


"I'd always placed Palestine and the Middle East conflict in the too hard basket" writes Eva Di Cesare in her insightful director's note for Monkey Baa Theatre Company's production of Where the Streets Had a Name. Thanks to this bold adaptation of Randel Abdel-Fattah's novel of the same name, some light is shed on the very human stories that are caught up in the struggles between Israel and Palestine and the wider Middle East.

Thirteen-year-old Palestinian, Hayaat (Aanisa Vylet) and her family were removed from their home in Jerusalem when the Israeli occupation commenced. Hyaat has been left emotionally and physically scarred from the conflict, her mother doesn't really want to talk about the past and she finds refuge talking to her grandmother about memories of home. When Hyaat's grandmother falls ill, she takes it upon herself to try to cross back into Israeli occupied territory with her friend Samy (Mansoor Noor) to try and fill a jar with home soil so that her grandmother can once again feel Jerusalem on her skin. The journey is long and perilous and the pluck demonstrated by this 13-year-old girl is impressive.

Eva Di Cesare has created a cohesive and intelligent production. Her creative team have delivered a design that is sensory and smart the lighting design (Emma Lockhart-Wilson), AV design (Jerome Pearce) and set design (Antoinette Barbouttis) work seamlessly together to harness the isolation, poignancy and despair of Hayaat's situation. The huge walls of the set are used to show beautiful flashbacks of happier times and a section of the set is cleverly turned around and becomes a bus for a portion of Hayaat and Samy's journey. It's really clever, extremely efficient and the cast handle the moving pieces with ease.

Aanisa Vylet is wonderful as the protagonist Hyaat. Her performance captures the childlike innocence of a thirteen-year-old girl, but layers it with the deep seated sorrow and horror that she has witnessed in her short life. Her portrayal is nuanced, sharp and feels completely organic and honest.

Alissar Gazal has some lovely moments as Hayaat's grandmother Sitti Zeynab, as well as a fantastic cameo as the bus driver Hayaat meets on her journey. Her scenes with Aanisa Vylet as grandmother and granddaughter are delightful and moving, and it's definitely clear that their relationship is special enough that Hayaat would risk her life to bring a little bit of home back to her.

Mansoor Noor tackles two roles. As Samy, Hayaat's friend, he is all bravado until right at the end of the play where we get to see some real vulnerability in his performance. As Tariq, Hayaat's brother, he is just the right level of annoying that we understand a bit of niggling sibling arguments. Dina Gillespie struggles a bit as Hayaat's mother, not quite nailing the contrast between the put upon matriarch and the loving parent. She does, however, put in a great turn as an American-Israeli peace activist further along in the play. Shal Sharah as Baba is also a little off the mark emotionally. Whilst he has some nice moments, there is a lot to play with here and Sharah just isn't quite letting his emotional life peek through enough to match the impact of Vylet and Gazal's performances. All in all, though, the ensemble is tight and works well together.

Whilst not perfect, Where the Streets Had a Name is an important production. As Di Cesare notes, in Australia, we are removed from the Middle Eastern conflict because we are physically so far away. Plays like this make sure that we are not silent, uninformed or able to pretend like the conflict doesn't exist.

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*Emma Jane Explores (Emma Caldwell) was invited as a guest
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Why? An insightful look at the human effect of conflict in the Middle East
When: 2nd September, 7pm
Phone: 02 8624 9340
Where: Lend Lease Theatre Darling Quarter
Cost: $29
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