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As part of the Theatre Témoin’s ‘The Return Project’, Ailin Conant spent a year speaking to ex-soldiers from Rwanda, Lebanon, Israel and Kashmir about what it means to return to civilian life. The result is ‘Nineveh’, a compelling piece of total theatre that weaves testimony, storytelling, physical theatre and poetry into an opaque but thought-provoking exploration of redemption.
Playwright Julia Pascal carves a unified narrative out of the soldiers’ experiences, drawing on a Rwandan fairytale about a boy who is eaten by a fish, and the biblical parable of Jonah, sent by God to redeem the sinful city of Nineveh. Here, three soldiers and a boy find themselves in the belly of a whale, and end up confessing their crimes to one another.
Claire Lyth’s oval barricaded set suggests both the whale’s stomach and Jesus’s crown of thorns, while the stench and dirt that fill the space evoke the trenches. Pascal’s characters jump between soul searching and boyish buffoonery as testimony is tempered with clowning and horror mingles with the mundane.
In a powerful ensemble, Yaron Shavit is brilliant as ‘L’Idiot Savant’ Joel, brimming with empathy and humour and matching psychological and physical precision.
Trying to do justice to such complex, confessional source material, ‘Nineveh’ sometimes feels repetitive. But the power of the voices being conveyed, Pascal’s comic touch and the cast’s fearless performances combine to hold our attention. Honour Bayes