As we enter the Theatre Royal to see this, one night only, performance there is a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation at the thought of seeing Vanessa Redgrave tread the boards again, but tonight’s event is a massive departure from her usual performances. Tonight she will narrate the story of an Arab woman, who lived in one of the most troubled areas in the world, an area of the Middle East which we now know as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.
The stage is set with three chairs at the front, several rows of chairs to the back, a trio of musicians to one side and a central microphone. The main players in the piece all arrive together with Karim Said sitting at his piano, Sary Khalife at his cello, Steve Bentley-Klein with his violin and, on the three chairs, Nijla Said, Nadim Sawalha and Ms Redgrave.
Behind Miss Said stands her Mother, Mariam C. Said, herself the daughter of the subject of tonight’s narrative, Wadad Makdisi Cortas. Ms Said is the first to approach the microphone and it is her that provides the capacity house with the introduction to the proceedings. She explains that Ms Cortas was first a pupil, then a teacher and then the principal of the Ahliah School for Girls in Beirut, at a time when the whole region was in turmoil.
Miss Redgrave then narrates from the Cortas’s memoir, A World I Loved, with Mr Sawalha performing as some of the male characters in the book and Miss Said, the youngest performer, as some of the younger characters in the piece.
The narrative is backed up by a series of slides, projected onto a massive screen at the back of the stage, showing pictures of Ms Cortas and members of her family together with some maps of the region and portraits of the significant people and events that take place in the seventy year time span of the memoir.
The tales of wanton destruction, unjustifiable murder and many broken political promises are as fascinating as they are emotional, as heartfelt as they are horrific and the audience watches the story unfold in almost complete silence throughout.
Punctuating the narrative are a number of musical pieces, by the trio of musicians, and some choral work, by the extremely talented Brighton Festival Youth Choir, led by their Musical Director, Esther Jones and accompanied by Glen Capra on the piano with the violin also being used to break up the many chapters in the story.
Miss Redgrave’s passion for the Palestinian cause is well documented and, at one or two points in the evening, her voice can be heard to crack as the emotion overtakes her however, the piece also appears to be somewhat under-rehearsed in parts which, at times, gave a stilted feeling to the narrative.