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It begins with an explosion. Two men are thrown to the ground. They pick themselves up, dust themselves down. And then a shoe falls from the sky. Followed by some chips. And a bottle of ketchup. Which the two men then proceed to eat.
This is the vaguely surreal and disorientating start to The Arab and The Jew, a powerfully physical piece by two-man theatre company Gecko. The performers, Al Nedjari and Amit Lahav, grew up on opposite sides of the Arab-Israeli divide and, in this show, they explore their experiences, mining the situation in the Middle East for all its numerous complexities and absurdities.
This results in some striking, if unexpected, set-pieces, such as the two men, with ethnically appropriate head-gear in place, performing a frantic music hall skit with toy drums and toy guns, to the strains of You Always Hurt The One You Love. Or a brilliantly choreographed exchange, where the exaggerated hand gestures of an animated conversation, finger pointing and arm waving and so forth, are given a sound-track of explosions and machine gun fire. A sense of conflict and confusion underlines every scene.
Lasting for just under an hour, The Arab And The Jew is a rattling collage of such moments, galloping from one scene to the next. At one point the two men strip off their dusty linen suits and engage in a boxing match. At other times they dance frantically across the stages sand-covered floor. And they even act out one particularly memorable scene backwards.
Staged as part of the London International Mime Festival, the piece is free of dialogue in the conventional sense, if not of speech entirely. Instead, the performers utter odd words here and there, coupled with much unintelligible murmuring and the occasional, oft-repeated interjection. But, in the main, the physical dominates over the verbal; as the performers dance and tumble and claw at the ground.
The Arab and The Jew focuses on people rather than politics, layering image upon image, to create a picture of a world full of connections and divisions sand and land, blood and oranges a place where words have lost meaning, and noise and chaos are the only logical responses. But, though the show is full of visually memorable moments, at times it feels rather bitty and incomplete. A couple of segments also feel heavy-handed, especially a section with baby doll that feels rather out of place a bit too obvious, a bit too literal in what is an otherwise gloriously inventive piece.
Still, for sheer theatrical exuberance and energy this is hard to beat and, even without words, it manages to say a great deal.