THEATRE / Taking it one step at a time: Tom Morris, a fan turned producer, pursues Israeli's Tmu-Na Theatre from the Edinburgh Festival to Tel Aviv and back to the Lyric in Hammersmith

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
August 1992: Edinburgh. At the Richard Demarco Gallery are six Israelis who speak in broken English, dance ballet under blue light around empty wine glasses and mime sex to Wagner's Tannhauser. This is Tmu- Na Theatre, from Tel Aviv, in Real Time, a movement play inspired by Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. In Hebrew the word Tmu-Na means moving pictures - images take precedence over words. This play loosely interweaves the love stories of six Israeli immigrants with no home of their own who gather in a bar on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. The wife of one turns up in the bar by chance the same evening and finds her husband having an affair with her best friend. All hell breaks loose. The theme is the search for a home; the political overlay is the search for a homeland.

Since first seeing the show I have become a bit of a groupie, and I join Nava Zukerman, director of Tmu-Na, drinking with two actors from Singapore, two from Spain and four from Ireland. Nava coaxes the Irish and the Spanish to dance and sing. 'Theatre is about meeting people from different places,' she says.

Sue Storr, general manager of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, arrives in Edinburgh and asks what she should see. I urge her to put the Israelis top of her list, though the critics are fiercely divided over the work. Briefly I worry that I may be suffering from a bad case of the Edinburgh bends, something I have often witnessed in covering the Festival as a journalist. What will a pro make of them? 'I've never seen such emotion on stage,' says Storr. She decides to bring Real Time to London; I persuade Tmu-Na to allow me to become the producer. They return to Israel.

September 1992: London. The Lyric Theatre insists that the Studio (their experimental space) is hired out for profit. I twist Storr's arm and she gives me an office in the building and I start badgering the Arts Council, the British Council and the Israeli government for the pounds 40,000 I need to bring the company over. This, as it turns out, takes five months.

January 1993: I go to Tel Aviv. Nava Zukerman sits in a 1-2-3, a tiny bar surrounded by four actresses, the core of the company. The barman makes eyes at them and asks if he can attend Nava's workshops. It is 2 am and Nava drinks coffee, eats salad and smokes constantly. She passes round a vermilion lipstick which the actresses all apply. Suddenly the barman falls into her lap, drunk, and begs to become an actor.

Nava Zukerman's company rehearses for a new work in an air-raid shelter in a large corporate building in the grubby east end of Tel-Aviv. The air-raid shelter is full of people - some crying, some tapping the walls like diviners, some rocking on their heels. They are improvising in character - Nava has distributed costumes to each of them, simple garments such as jackets, scarves, flowery dresses which supply details for their characterisation. Her workshops go on for four or five hours and the performers develop their characters over months. Nava then edits their dialogue into a script. This has been her method since she formed Tmu-Na in 1982, and she has held workshops all over the world, spawning new companies which have copied her techniques. Nava insists that every movement an actor makes must be felt, must be real. In the air-raid shelter the sobbing, tapping characters meet each other, as if in slow motion. 'We work from our lives,' says Nava. 'Any day we might be at war. We have to live each moment for itself.'

8 January 1993: Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv. I struggle between fund-raising meetings with banks and representatives of the Israeli government. I attempt to persuade them that this work represents an aspect of Israeli culture, about community and warmth, not normally seen in the West. Limited success: they pay for the flights of the company to Britain.

The streets of Tel Aviv are always full of young soldiers who don't walk or talk like soldiers; their khaki looks like a school uniform.

24 January 1993: I arrange to visit the Gaza Strip with Geraint Lewis, who is making a video of Tmu-Na's life and work. A broken sign bridges the road saying 'Welcome to G'. Our Palestinian guides show us a house that was evacuated and shelled by the army on suspicion that there were armed rebels hiding there. The army later admitted they had been wrong. Machine-gun holes pockmark the insides of the wardrobes.

Gaza is alive with children. We saw one Israeli army jeep in Beech Camp, Gaza. A jet of children chased it hurling rocks. Two of them, aged seven or eight, were crowing to each other about how many soldiers they had hit - as if they were playing conkers. Further on children tore down a UN flag and replaced it with red-green- and-white for Palestine. Forty-five per cent of the population of Gaza is under 14. Some of these children have grandfathers who were born in the same refugee camps where they now live.

April 1993: London. The money for the run is almost in place. The Arts Council eventually give the project pounds 6,500; Visiting Arts pounds 5,000; Pilat, Tel Aviv management consultants, pounds 2,500; Business Sponsorship Incentive scheme pounds 2,500. Others have donated money anonymously. The Israeli cultural attache is arranging a reception for the opening night of Real Time at the Lyric Studio. Nava and her company arrive in London.

Geraint Lewis is mounting photographs of Israel and the Gaza Strip on the foyer walls. Nava's workshops, held in Britain for the first time, are almost booked up. The sign saying 'Studio' above the Lyric Studio is being replaced by one that says 'Eva's Bar', the name of the cafe in Real Time.

'Real Time' opens at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, W6 (081-7412311) tonight. See listings below. Workshop details from 071-735 0183

(Photograph omitted)

Comments