A bitter flavour of ice-cream

By John Nathan, September 4, 2008
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Three new plays over as many months will soon be looking at the Middle East conflict from very different perspectives.

In September, London's Arcola Theatre will host Welcome To Ramallah, by Sonja Linden and Adah Kay, about a Jewish woman who visits her sister's home in the city.

In October, Birmingham Rep will be the first port of call in a touring production of At the Gates of Gaza by Juliet Gilkes Romero, which looks at the territory from the point of view of West Indian soldiers fighting for the British Empire during the Great War.

But first out of the blocks is Eating Ice-Cream On Gaza Beach, by Shelley Silas. "It is the hardest play I've ever had to write," says the Calcutta-born, London-raised Silas, whose play arrives at the Soho Theatre later this month as part of this year's National Youth Theatre season. It features a cast of no fewer than 16 young actors.

Set partly in Gaza and partly in Israel, Silas's latest work - previous plays include the acclaimed Calcutta Kosher, about an Indian Jewish family - focuses on six characters whose lives are bound up in the world's most intractable conflict.

"I asked myself questions," says Silas, speaking from her South London home. "How would it feel to be an Israeli soldier who didn't want to be sent to a certain area? How would that impact on the rest of my family? If I had a girlfriend, what would she feel if she was passionate about fighting for Israel and the land? So I just wanted to present a group of characters who we may not normally associate with Gaza."

It is not the first time Silas has written about the Middle East. There is a play called Moses-Mohammed which has been written but has yet to find a stage. It explores the relationship between an old Jewish man and the son of his Palestinian friend. But, says Silas, it came up against very narrow attitudes about what a play about the Middle East should contain.

"A lot of people came back and said the writing is great, but we want suicide-bombers and we want lots of action. Because that's how they see it. And yes it is part of it - people are dying all the time. But there is another part: the humane part."

But why was Eating Ice-Cream on the Beach so difficult to write?

"Because it's so close to my heart; because it matters; because I feel I need to show something genuine yet not take sides, which means putting aside my views and my opinions. My father is Israeli, a lot of my family are there, it's a sensitive subject. I think that's the main thing, not wanting to upset anyone on either side. Detaching myself has been hard, but I think I have managed to do it."

And what are the opinions that you have had to put to one side?

"I just - like many Israelis - think it's time for the Palestinians to have a legally recognised state, and only then can real peace be given a chance. As for Jerusalem, it should belong to all three main religions. But I don't see that ever happening."

    Last updated: 3:01pm, February 18 2011