Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Croak That Is Being Heard All over the World; with the Arrival in the North East of a Group of Palestinian Refugee Youngsters, Tyneside Writer PETER MORTIMER Examines a Remarkable Relationship

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Croak That Is Being Heard All over the World; with the Arrival in the North East of a Group of Palestinian Refugee Youngsters, Tyneside Writer PETER MORTIMER Examines a Remarkable Relationship

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER MORTIMER

ADOZEN Palestinian youngsters and their four teachers arrive on Tyneside today in the latest chapter of a story that in the last few years has changed my life, and - I suspect - many other people''s lives too. The youngsters face 10 days as far removed from their day-to-day experience as could be imagined.

These are the children of Shatila refugee camp in West Beirut in Lebanon. Shatila is a place of cramped squalor, a forgotten and often claustrophobic slum in existence since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

A few weeks ago, a six-strong production team from Tyneside spent 16 days in Shatila preparing the play, Croak The King and a Change in the Weather -- based on one of my fables - for the youngsters to perform on stage. Living on a refugee camp had a profound effect on us all, and the people of Shatila took us to their hearts.

The first performance was at Theatre Monnot in the well-to-do mainly Christian East Beirut. Although in the same city as Shatila, this area culturally and economically is as distant as Mars.

Now the play travels 3,000 miles to Tyneside, and the Palestinians also perform in Edinburgh and Liverpool. In Liverpool the audience will include children from a Jewish school.

Following an article on the trip in The Jewish Chronicle the school requested both to see the play and meet the cast. Hard to imagine from the humble beginnings in December 2008, how much things would move on.

I lived in Shatila for two months, the main objective being to write a book on the culture shock of such an experience. The final act on camp was staging the rough-and-ready version of the fable I'd written for the children during my stay.

At this stage, I never envisaged the piece travelling beyond the confines of the camp The youngsters had only a limited AMAZED grasp of English, yet almost miraculously performed the play in this, the language of Shakespeare. Theatre was an unknown experience to these young actors. …

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