Battersea Arts Centre is one of ten UK venues playing host to a tour of The Siege. The show will be performed in our Council Chamber 19 – 23 May after opening at The Lowry in Salford on Wednesday 13th May. The show is made by The Freedom Theatre who are based in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, a community theatre company who run a professional theatre school and who use the arts as a way of bringing people together to explore different perspectives and to promote free expression.
Their latest show is based on a significant episode in the history of Israel and Palestine. During the siege of The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 a group of Palestinian fighters took refuge in a church with some 200 priests, nuns and civilians. The UK tour of The Siege is causing debate about the role of politics in art, the alleged bias or accuracy of storytelling in the show, and the role of UK theatres in giving voice to this story or perspective.
We have programmed The Siege because we want to invite debate – about the show and about the context in which it sits. This invitation is for everyone because we believe that free artistic expression is an essential part of our culture. It must travel across borders with the intention of sharing and promoting an understanding of each other and of different points of view. As a publically funded cultural space it is incredibly important to us that we host and welcome people with different perspectives. Whilst this show is about a highly controversial subject, our commitment to free speech is evident in our programme every day of the year. At Battersea Arts Centre people express their identity, their ideas, their hope and their fears. They also declare their love for each other by getting married, they bring their children to play in the building, they come to take creative risks and express themselves. Programming The Siege is part of our commitment to freedom of expression. All the shows we put on are open to anyone to buy a ticket and as part of the presentation of The Siege we will be hosting public debates and conversations alongside the performances. Our cultural buildings must remain as spaces in which we can host open debate and discussion, all year round.
One such debate will be hosted after The Siege on May 20th by Jon Snow from Channel 4 news and will include speakers such as Josh Glancy who writes for the Jewish Chronicle and Leila Sansour a Palestinian filmmaker. Last year we hosted another debate chaired by Jon Snow after a performance of the Ballad of the Burning Star, which ran for three weeks at Battersea Arts Centre. Ballad of the Burning Star was a production that explored the perspective of a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces. We worked with the company, Theatre Ad Infinitum, and its director Nir Paldi, to tour the show and accompanying public discussions to towns around England. We also want to open up discussion, debate and enable free expression about The Siege. We warmly invite every community to engage in a wider debate and will continue with this commitment in all our future programming.
Some have criticised The Siege for being one-sided but I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that every piece of art must seek out a neutral position. The production is based on conversations with a diverse range of people from different backgrounds and different faiths. The show draws on a wide range of source material and is careful not to present or identify any specific real-life characters. The Freedom Theatre promote peaceful dialogue and debate across Palestine. Please do find out more about the company who made the show in this article. I think they are a remarkable bunch of people who have taken to making art to find a way of connecting with people and to try and make a positive difference. I think anyone who does this, from any perspective, deserves our attention. I think we all need to work together to maintain peaceful free expression, it is one of the reasons why so many people want to live in this great culture we have created together. I am proud that Battersea Arts Centre is playing its part in this UK tour and I remain dedicated to hosting artists, from all perspectives, over the coming years.
As a theatre, our role is to try and reflect a diversity of perspectives over time, to give artists of different backgrounds, a voice on our stages. For example, over the last year, in additional to the artists and debates described above, we have hosted a number of interesting other perspectives on related themes. Last year, Lucien Bourjeily, a Lebanese artist, presented a fascinating perspective on the talks between British and French politicians after World War 1 that that led to the creation of a series of new borders in the Middle East. The show invited the audience to engage in the exercise of re-mapping the area, exploring some of the causes of today’s Middle East conflicts. Exploring a very different experience, Danny Braverman’s show Wot? No Fish!! investigated experience of a Jewish family in the UK, across a sixty year period, through the eyes of artist Ab Solomon. And different productions by Ensemble 52 from Hull, by lighting designer Itai Erdal, by Lebanese company Zoukak and by writer Nassim Soleimanpour, have all provided varied perspectives and ideas on related themes over the last year.
If you are an artist and you would like to present your work at Battersea Arts Centre, then you can find out more about how we programme here. Or if you are a member of the public who wants to host an event then you can find out more here.
Battersea Arts Centre