There is a moment in JT Rogers’ hit play Oslo where two of the characters — of necessity — break into Hebrew as they mutter instructions to each other about how best to proceed in the delicate negotiations that formed the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Responsible for ensuring accuracy in the dialogue is a young Israeli woman, Liron Shekel, who has lived and worked in London for the last few years. But, as she tells it, what led to her contribution to the play was a series of happy accidents.
Born and brought up in Ra’anana, Liron first came to London on a visit with her family when she was 12.
“I fell in love with the city and I said to my dad, I’m going to come back and live here.”
The family didn’t take her seriously — though her father, Moshe, knew she was a determined person.
Eleven years after her first visit, Liron finished university in Israel, where she completed two back-to-back degrees in community arts and law —“arts for me, law for my dad” — and took off for London.
Her immediate priority was to find a job in theatre or cinema, but no matter how much she tried, her Israel experience — she spent time working in the Keshet TV company and at a film school — cut no ice.
Instead she ended up working as a waitress, in a restaurant owned by the National Theatre; and by degrees she moved to serving in an NT bar and then into ushering or front-of-house duties.
“I always made friends and said hello to people, and one day a woman who I regularly spoke to turned out to be involved in production management, and I’d applied for a place in that department.”
Liron didn’t get the place, but instead was given the opportunity to work in stage management on a National Theatre project to mark the centenary of the First World War’s Battle of the Somme. She was in charge of 25 actors, part of a cohort of 400 in the “We’re Here Because We’re Here” presentation — “a really amazing experience”.
Liron was almost certainly the only Israeli working full-time in the National Theatre when the staff were told that Oslo was coming to London, fresh from its Broadway success in New York. But sadly, Moshe Shekel fell ill and Liron flew back to Israel to be with him.
“I received an email from the NT voice coach asking if I would help with the Hebrew dialogue.
“Because my father died, I had to stay longer so I ended up sending recordings on how to pronounce the lines. When I got back, I found one of the actors was still struggling, so I sat with him and coached him on how best to deliver the Hebrew.”
It worked: audience members were impressed with how authentic the actors sound.
But for Liron, voice coaching is not her route into the theatre.
Now working at Tate Modern, she has written two plays, one of which has received a rehearsed reading at the NT Studio with actors from last year’s Hedda Gabler production at the National, and says she is very much influenced by Harold Pinter in her writing.
“I think it’s a Jewish and east European thing, that I am drawn to the absurd.”
And her other London theatre link honours her father, who always believed in her. She has used part of her inheritance to become a benefactor in both their names at the Almeida Theatre, so Moshe Shekel’s name will live on.