Seven Jewish Children, ADC Larkum Studio, 5th March 2009.
Churchill has drawn some pretty clear battle lines, not only through the title of the play, but also through its epigraph: a play for Gaza. Not about Gaza, for Gaza. I’m not going to get into a pro/anti-Israel debate, but I think there needs to be a clear distinction between being anti-Israel, anti-violence, anti-militarism, or anti-Semitic. ‘Seven Jewish Children’ is firmly in the first three camps, but emphatically not in the last. More to the point, even if it were (and I am speaking as a Jew, here), it should still be given theatrical space.
However, for all the furore surrounding the premiere of Caryl Churchill’s new play at the Royal Court, this was more storm in a teacup than full-blown hurricane. Not only was it not anti-Semitic, it was also not much more than an angry first draft. The small ensemble cast were mixed, with some excellent, serious actors mixed in with some over-enthusiastic thesps taking themselves and their subject matter too seriously. The joy of Churchill’s play is that the lines are unattributed, giving unusual directorial freedom. In this instance, the director had made some interesting decisions about how to divide up the lines effectively, creating several small family units. The whole play discusses what to tell or not tell an unnamed ‘her’ who, it is implied, is a young Jewish child. I would suggest that the direction here was a little self-righteous, and although the play had some important things to say it was effectively a glorified first draft. I am all for power of immediacy, but I cannot get away from the fact that this play would have been hugely improved by a period of reflection and re-writing by Churchill before she released it to the world. It was an interesting, intense and often uncomfortable 10 minutes, which is presumably what she was going for, but with the benefit of time it could have been so much more.
Given the torrent of stuff written about this play, here are the links to some other people’s thoughts: Andrew Haydon, Charlotte Higgins, Martin Beckford, Terri Judd, Lyn Gardner, Michael Billington, Dominic Maxwell, and the ever delightful Melanie Phillips.