Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Maxine Peake London play turns out to be stealth Palestinian protest – it never existed

Thousands registered for free tickets, but it was never written or staged, and setting people up for disappointment was a protest, mimicking the feelings of loss after the bombing of Gaza's only theatre

British actress Maxine Peake collaborated with Palestinian playwright Ahmed Masoud to protest against the attack on artists in Gaza. AP
British actress Maxine Peake collaborated with Palestinian playwright Ahmed Masoud to protest against the attack on artists in Gaza. AP

Obliterated is a play that never was.

After publicising a free one-night only drama starring British actress Maxine Peake in June, UK-based writer and director Ahmed Masoud announced this morning that the sold-out play, set to take place at Amnesty International UK’s headquarters in London on Friday, August 9, was not only cancelled, it was never written.

The play was never going to happen: its promotion and then cancellation was a form of protest developed by Palestinian writer and director Ahmed Masoud. The entire endeavour was set-up to highlight the one-year anniversary of the destruction of the Saeed Al Mishal Cultural Centre – Gaza’s only theatre – after it was bombed by Israeli warplanes on August 9, 2018.

That feeling of wanting to see something that’s not available to them is what I wanted to leave them with

Ahmed Masoud, Palestinian writer and director

Before the attack, Israeli forces fired shots at the building and sent out alerts to residents before proceeding to raze the auditorium, leaving at least 18 people wounded.

After this, Masoud, who grew up in Gaza before moving to the UK for postgraduate studies, sought to develop a response that would replicate, albeit on a smaller scale, the feeling of loss following the bombing.

“I thought of writing a play or a performance piece that would engage the audience, but then even the play itself would be performed for a night or two, or a week or a month, and [then] it would be gone.

"So I wanted something that would have a lasting impact. I wanted people to think that they’re going to see their favourite celebrity, but then they’re disappointed that they’re not. That feeling of wanting to see something that’s not available to them is what I wanted to leave them with,” he said.

The announcement of Obliterated’s ‘cancellation’ was made via email to the 2,529 people who registered for tickets. “I am not sure whether I will be able to write or do theatre again. They took our theatre, and with it our play,” Masoud states in his message.

The response from those who booked tickets ranges from 'angry' to 'incredible'

Since the announcement, he has received a number of responses from would-be audience members.

Some were supportive, “I have had incredible reactions from people, but also some of them are angry because they have booked train tickets and made arrangements to come and see the play. I think if you compared the anger of the audience in Gaza, the writers, directors, performers, neighbours and the entire community that only had one theatre, it is not comparable.”

To further drive his message, he has also produced a video with Peake and poet Farah Chamma, both of whom he has worked with previously.

In the short film, Chamma defiantly performs an Arabic poem written specifically for this initiative. “Why did you bomb the theatre? Because you are scoundrels and cowards, afraid of our songs and our art. So, listen to our voices every time you silence one of us,” she recites.

Peake then reads out lines written by Masoud to camera: “Our play is cancelled because art should not be targeted by soldiers or anyone else. In Gaza or anywhere else.”

“It’s almost like a virtual performance piece,” Masoud said. “It’s amazing to be able to have two great performers to convey this message to people.”

Art is destroyed by some because it 'reaches into the heart of people'

Though he didn't stage any of his own plays in the Gaza Cultural Centre’s theatre, he considered it a base from which to work with talent in the occupied territory. “Since [the bombing] happened, I haven’t had anything to do with artists there. It’s almost as if that bridge between us has been cut off. We had an anchor to rely on, but that’s gone.”

The acclaimed director, whose films and books have often addressed issues of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserts that the attack on the theatre is merely a continuation in a series of targeted strikes on Palestinian art and culture, citing the assassination of author Ghassan Kanafani and the assault on other cultural centres such as the Al Kasaba Theatre in the West Bank.

Asked why culture seems to pose such a threat, Masoud answered that: “Art is very important to people because it connects us to our humanity; it connects us to our culture. We are able to overcome challenges, barriers and checkpoints through the medium of art, theatre and poetry. Whoever is in the wrong or is committing injustice is always afraid of art, because art reaches into the heart of people.”

The play's original poster, with the cancellation notice now pasted across it. Courtesy Ahmed Masoud 
The play's original poster, with the cancellation notice now pasted across it. Courtesy Ahmed Masoud 

Updated: July 31, 2019 03:00 PM

SHARE

SHARE