Quake

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

Gabrielle Schwarz

at 09:14 on 2nd Nov 2011

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As the lights went down on 'Quake' for the last of many times, there was no doubt that this time the fascinating collage of fragments of different forms, voices and memories had come to a close. Although at first shaky in establishing its own as well as the individual identities, by the end, the disparate parts had united and culminated in a moving portrayal of one young woman’s story.

Often, pieces that choose events from the often explosive history of the Arab-Israeli conflict as their subject are at danger of simply joining into the blame-game of one or another involved party. However, placing a character normally at the fringes of cultural consciousness, the young Armenian woman Anoush, at the centre of events, Quake becomes instead something far more involving and moving. As we follow the story of her life and loves, potentially politicised moments dissolve into humour and pathos. When Anoush’s British fiancé, for example, clumps all the ‘local girls’ into the same category of dull and uninteresting, we do get a sense of the unsettling and uneasy atmosphere of the setting; however, ultimately, we are not invited to blame the British, as the man who voices these words is in every other way so charmingly polite and concerned about understanding Anoush’s family’s customs, as well as laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, this role is one of the play’s most consistently strong performances. Combining him with the central character of Anoush, whose climactic sequence of visions at the play’s climax truly binds the audience to her in deep empathy, it seems that more than anything, we are simply being presented with a love-story, albeit a highly complex one.

At times, the complexity of this narrative can make the play feel a little too fragmented into a collection of strong and weaker moments. There are aspects that jar, such as the shared narrating sequences; these moments were hindered by a sense that the fragments of speech do not appear to connect, especially when the lines were often accidentally spoken a moment out of time, so that these scene-setting narrations were rendered meaningless and distracting. The overall effect though, when the fragmentation did work, was outstanding. The combination of film projections and musical accompaniments drawing on different time periods and cultures, overlayed with the ambiguous dreams or visions, seemed to create a thought-provoking comment on the way in which the bomb seems to have both literally and emotionally broken apart lives, not just in the moment of the explosion, but by sending ripples through the rest of history. The execution of the physical theatre used particularly stood out; the choreography used to recreate the scene of Anoush being trapped in the basement was beautifully effective; the frozen actors and lighting pinning her down vividly conveyed a claustrophobic entrapment to the audience.

Watching the play unfold, at times the seemingly random sequence of elements seemed a little ambitious, particularly as various technical problems interrupted proceedings. Yet, the show's magic lay in its recoveries from these moments, and the fact that the pathos created for Anoush’s story as the play progressed meant that any technically or artistically faulty moments were quickly forgotten, as the audience remained rooted in the rapid and grippingly unfolding action.

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Lucie Elven

at 20:23 on 2nd Nov 2011

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Everyone who saw Catastrophes last term left talking about Docksey, who put on an extract of Quake, based on her grandmother’s experience of the bombing of the King David Hotel.

Jerusalem, martialled by British troups, is home to a family of three girls. Tradition is everywhere, symbolised by the three generations of family, tea, Tarof, herbs, the BBC world service, and George Michael’s perennial festive admonishment ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60obcSGXAHQ ), which sneaks in wherever it can. The detail creates a surface for the titular quake to disturb.

The moments of most power were those where the city was represented. Anoush's (Lydia Morris-Jones) prayer, performed by the chorus in English and Arabic and on the drum (Lawrence Dunn), was brilliant; the soundscapes of hotel life were dexterously written. There were lines of fantastic irony – when Anoush asks Ernest ‘Have they been torturing you?’, in creeps the outside world.

But though I didn’t want to compare the girls to Little Women, the opening scenes were like Little Women anyway, because these Armenian Christians had been translated for the stage into the type of lady who says ‘bumble’. Two of three sisters are played by the most English of roses (LMJ and Emma Powell), and to indicate a previous generation, the extended family switched to expert but inexplicable Lancashire accents. It seemed a shame to thus confound the audience’s sense of the position the family occupies in a divided city, otherwise made rich by the father/brother’s frustration with the earnest English soldier who repeatedly asks for Anoush’s hand in marriage (Hugh Wyld), and the light but pervasive piss-taking of Jews and Arabs.

The few technical slip-ups and the crossing of lines I shall put down to first night nerves, as I shall the too-long gap between scenes – correcting this detail would give a beautifully structured play much more impact. Individually, the actors were reliable and grew in self-assurance over the performance to make more of their characters and take the characterisation beyond what they knew of Docksey family history, though this was still an issue last night.

Nevertheless, new writing in Cambridge is rare. Quake is informed, well-made, and got laughs throughout – go.

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