Etcetera Theatre

Two consecutive evenings, two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer



I rounded off October by spending two consecutive evenings being excited and challenged by the work of two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer. Niv Petel is heartbreaking in Knock Knock, his beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation faced by too many Israeli families, and Hagit Yakira attracted full houses for her exciting new work Free Falling.

Petel is an extraordinary physical actor, wonderfully convincing as a devoted mother whose son is the centre of her life. An engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel. And at Sadler’s Wells last week, dancer/choreographer Yakira presented four talented performers falling and recovering again as they take what life throws at them. Supporting each other, their eyes and faces as important as the rest of their bodies as they look out for each other. In a beguiling add on, three more dance artists responded to Free Falling – including full audience participation on the studio floor, everyone linked in a joyful dance – a sort of Hora at Sadler’s Wells, which makes Israeli dance so welcome. Niv Petel and Hagit Yakira are certainly names to watch.

Continue through the blog to read our reviews of Knock Knock and Free Falling, as well as an interview with Niv Petel, or click the names to go straight to each one.

by Judi Herman

Review: Knock Knock ★★★★ - A beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation

knock-knock-ectetera-theatre-niv-petel-writer-and-performer-credit-chris-gardner-6 Clad simply in a white top and khaki trousers, to which he adds such details as a white apron, Petel bowls a blinder by playing the mother of his young conscript. He stacks the emotional stakes high – she's a single mother and an army therapist, trained to tell bereaved parents the worst, to make that dreaded knock on the door, and to work with them through the grief and loss that will form part of the rest of their lives. For most of the show Petel talks intimately and affectionately to his son. The account of their intense relationship is beautifully paced, starting with Ilad as a babe in arms and then as a toddler; at kindergarten, then junior school; as stroppy teenager and, inevitably, at 18 preparing for the draft.

Petel’s is a beautifully nuanced physical performance that takes the audience with him through the whole of what we know is to be a tragically short life. There's a moment of hope when we discover that as an only child, he can opt out of active service; we live with his mother through the nail-biting agony of trying to dissuade her son from choosing service to prove himself. But mothers must let go if children are to grow up at all.

With the aid of designer Rhiannon White the show is made up of an extraordinarily simple set and minimal, versatile props to set off the physical and vocal skill and simplicity with which Petel tells his story. White lives up to her name, for everything on stage is stark and clinical: a table, chair, telephone and the towel that Petel winds first into baby Ilad and then almost everything else needed to tell his tale. Under lighting designer Oliver Bush’s equally stark white light, the feel is of a waiting room, a surgery or a morgue – perhaps a waiting room in the afterlife even. The only other colour is the khaki of those trousers, suggesting that Petel is Ilad, as well as his mother, which is a touching duality. Overall, Knock Knock is an engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel.

By Judi Herman

Knock Knock runs until Sunday 6 November, 7.30pm, £8-£10, at Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High St, NW1 7BU; 020 7482 4857.

Listen to Niv Petel talking about Knock Knock on JR OutLoud

Review: 5 Kilo Sugar – Gur Koren’s tale is bittersweet magic realism

5 kilo sugar So your late grandfather assumes the role of a fairly benign dybbuk (malevolent spirit) and enters the bodies of a variety of unsuspecting hosts, mostly Israeli (as we are mostly in Tel Aviv), to gee you up to right what he perceives as a historical wrong perpetrated during the 1940s in post-war Eastern Europe. It’s not quite on the same scale of the vengeance that, say, Hamlet’s father demands. All Grandfather’s co-survivor and landsman (person from the same village) has done is slope off when the pair are apprehended for trying to sell smuggled sugar on the black market, leaving Grandfather to face the music and two months in a Russian labour camp. But Grandfather is rankled in death, as in life, and now he’s spotted a chance to set the record straight, for the cowardly landsman's historian of a grandson, Yoad Riva, is writing a book about his grandfather.

This is the clever, quirky premise of Gur Koren’s moving, funny chamber piece, which opens a window onto the past, to remind us that it is always with us, particularly in the case of second and third generation Holocaust survivors, and especially for Israelis.

This is a lovely intimate piece of writing, with a hero who engages one-to-one with his audience (it’s a mockumentary, so we're cast as a TV or film audience) that gets the production it deserves by director Ariella Eshed.

The cast of four work wonderfully together and tackle the different roles that most of them get to play with relish. Tom Slatter’s Gur Koren is indeed engaging and sympathetic and gets a lot of fun out of the surreal situation of talking to people who are being ‘occupied’ by grandfather’s ghost – and explaining to them that when he addresses what is apparently the air (shades of Hamlet again) he is actually doing a monologue to camera. Spencer Cowan’s Yoad Riva is both funny and appealing, trying to trade sexual favours for that mention in the book, and Shia Forester and Micah Banai have the intriguing job of playing everything from 'bored prostitute' to 'well-read taxi driver' and 'Dostoyevsky aficionado', most of them morphing into bodies possessed by grandfather so he can engage with grandson Gur (so playing a personality within a personality – most of them expansive).

This tale has a real feel of the magic realism of Isaac Singer.  When I saw the show, it was taken to the collective heart of its hugely enthusiastic and eclectic audience, who guffawed and cheered appreciatively in this tiny (hot and sweaty) fringe theatre. Eshed’s Tik-Sho-Ret Theatre (the name means communication in Hebrew) aims to give a platform to Israeli and Jewish theatre in the UK and encourage collaborations through cultural and artistic exchange and to promote communication and co-existence. Perhaps this is the production that will achieve all that in its forthcoming run in Edinburgh, after the debacle of last year’s beleaguered shows from Israel. Unsurprisingly the Israeli version has been running since 2009.

By Judi Herman

Hear Ariella Eshed and cast members talking to Judi post-performance at London's Etcetera Theatre:

5 Kilo Sugar runs Friday 7 – Saturday 15 August. 10.25pm. £7-£9. theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1TH.