The final scene in Brian Rotman’s play, A Land Without People, sees a spotlight highlighting the puppet of a faceless Palestinian woman, the actors bow to her as the lights fade while mournful Arabic music fills the sparsely attended Courtyard Theatre.
A powerful statement to end a play in which Rotman stated that he had planned to maintain a neutral stance of the period. What this proves – more than whether this small play can illustrate it – is that there is no such thing as taking a neutral view on the Arab-Israeli conflict and that Rotman misleads his audience quite significantly by suggesting otherwise.
Having interviewed Rotman about the new play he had written in response to the war in Gaza last summer, he expressed: “I was determined to stick to the historical truths, which I researched thoroughly making a genuine attempt to say this history is true.”
This is problematic due to the nature of the history, both sides of the conflict maintain their side is a true history and there will never be a definitive record of that period.
Although Rotman does utilise real speeches from Parliament; it is not just in his use of words but in the way they are portrayed that contradicts his attempt to retell a true history.
Like any art form, the auteur’s personal opinion, even without knowing it, is likely to underpin the creation and this is evident with Rotman. Watching the play, there was a gradual lurching feeling that actually A Land Without People is not an equal retelling of the conflict but it is largely the Palestinian side of the story and had the puppet not been so worshiped in the final sequence than there may have been room for ambiguity. But this is not the case.
That aside, the play is overly long and indulgent, uses too many theatrical devices that ideally should help the structure but mostly confuse it and the actors often trip over the extensive text.
Perhaps Rotman had started writing the play with a neutral history in mind, but he has veered to one side, turning the title – taken from the known Zionist quote “A land without a people for a people without a land” – and satirising it.
There is no doubt that the play is making a considered point, which is fine. What is not fine is the pretence that the play shows equality to both sides, which it does not.