An eloquent new play by West Bank poet and writer Dalia Taha about innocence, war and living in conflict.
At the Royal Court these days, it often feels like the difficult experimental work is put in the main house and the straight plays are tucked away in the small upstairs theatre. Which occasionally seems a bit topsy turvy, but it’s usually new voices being given their first break in the studio – what other major London theatre is going to stage a brand new play by a Palestinian playwright you’ve never heard of?
‘Fireworks’ is a reasonably conventional but quietly devastating piece of work by young West Bank poet and writer Dalia Taha (translated by Clem Naylor). It is set entirely in a tower block in what we take to be Gaza City during one of Israel’s periodic invasions – a horrible detail at the end suggests it’s probably last year’s – and follows two families as they attempt to live their lives normally, rather than leave town or move into a cramped UN shelter.
For the pre-teen children of the families, Lubna (Shakira Riddell-Morales, very young and very impressive) and Khalil (Yusuf Hofri), it’s not really a case of pretending things are normal as not knowing any different. In short scenes demarcated by eerie flares of light, we see the two of them make friends and play childish games without leaving the building, within the strange constraints that have been imposed on them. And it becomes heartbreakingly clear that Lubna’s dad has lied to her about exactly what is going on in an effort to preserve her innocence. Meanwhile her mum is cracking up, deranged by the death of her other child; Khali’s mum is starting to get nervous about remaining in the building; and their affable dads look increasingly like they are about to be driven to some sort of futile act of defiance.
A full-on, far-right Zionist whack job would conceivably find something to get angry about. But really, the painful beauty of ‘Fireworks’ and Richard Twyman’s light touch production is that it is not overtly politicised, or heavy on specifics. It is a naturalistic window into the unnatural lives of normal people trying to get on with things during war. It is set in Gaza, but a few tweaks and it could be Ukraine, or Syria, or Sarajevo, or the Blitz. It’s a sad play, but not a gratuitously harrowing one: it’s more an eloquent case for the value of innocence and the need to try and preserve it.