Dramatic lead

Tel Aviv’s theatre has entered a new stage of its always-inspiring

By Mordechai Beck, November 11, 2011

This summer, Tel Aviv witnessed some live theatre in the shape of a major demonstration against the cost of living in Israel's chief urban centre. How ironic that most of the uproar took place on Rothschild Boulevard, directly down the road from the largest cultural project of the last decade - the renovated Habima National Theatre complex. Indeed it has taken almost a decade for the present restoration to be completed - delayed by concerns over its stability, the design, the architect and the spiralling costs, which climaxed at over 100 million shekels.

However, as with many a Thespian enterprise, all's well that ends well and the sparkling complex is set to open in November, starting a new chapter in the theatre's rich history.

The renewed complex has added 500 sq m to the original structure, allowing extra space to contain its four major auditoria - a main hall (the Rovina) holding 900 seats; the Meskin (300 seats) the Bartanov (220 seats) and an experimental hall (170).

As well as the actual performances, there will be theatre workshops and master classes and a vestibule that will make it pleasant to hang out at the theatre, even when no performance is taking place.

Underground parking and access for the physically challenged will ensure the maximum flexibility for visitors.

The named halls (Rovina, Meskin) resonate with the echoes of Habima's origins, in Moscow almost a century ago.

Dedicated to establishing a Hebrew-speaking theatre, these pioneers eventually settled in Palestine where, in 1935, they laid the foundation stone not just of their theatre but of modern Hebrew theatre as a whole.

The original building was designed in the graceful Bauhaus style as part of Tel Aviv's White City, the Unesco World Heritage site that is a tribute to the exiled German architects who found a home in pre-State Palestine. Prize-winning architect Ram Karmi has retained this white look for his additions to the complex, preserving its characteristic Mediterranean feel.

Habima prides itself on presenting plays that tackle contemporary issues in the country, alongside works with Jewish and historic themes and, of course, classics from world theatre - including Shakespeare, Molière and Sophocles. In 1958, the same year that it was recognised as Israel's national theatre, it also received the Israel Prize as a leading institution promoting Hebrew culture.

Most of the works come with simultaneous English translations.

Current and planned productions address themes including the Israel-Arab conflict, the religious-secular divide, bureaucratic corruption, the status of women, the Holocaust, and the issue of foreign workers.

It will be interesting to see if it stages a play about the recent disturbances down the road.

Last updated: 4:09pm, November 11 2011