2017 marked three major anniversaries for Palestine: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration; the fiftieth year of Israeli occupation; and the tenth year of the blockade of Gaza. Walking to Jerusalem tells the true story of a walk, or rather pilgrimage, from London to Jerusalem, organised by Justin Butcher, playwright, actor and musician, writer and performer of the play. They did so to raise awareness of the treatment of Palestinian people by Israel, to acknowledge Britain’s own role in creating the situation, and to stand in solidarity with a country ravaged by war and religious persecution.
The team made great use of the small set The New Theatre has to offer, using rubble, sand and dust to perfectly create an atmosphere of the war-torn countries they would be passing through. Butcher brought out a scarf which we see was with him on the journey, and I would wager that they were the shoes he wore for the walk too. The lights fulfilled their purpose in focussing the audiences attention where it needed to be. However, the video montage on the backdrop, designed by Damian Hale and David Shepherd, which used footage from the journey, combined with Jack C. Arnold’s sound design using voice notes from Butcher on the walk, together worked wonders to bring the audience on the pilgrimage.
Without a doubt the most compelling element of the show lies in the performance by Butcher and his direction by Matilda Reith. Through the sleepless nights, the harrowing border crossings, and all the encounters with people they met along the way, Butcher regaled the story with such passion and energy that the audience were transfixed by his every word. Such tales of inspiring compassion are few and far between in these trying times, this one managed to make this self-proclaimed bystander feel a call to activism.
Walking to Jerusalem runs in The New Theatre from 1-6 October.
Review by Johnny Walsh