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Doug Watkinson On ... Writing The Wall

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Exploring an autobiographical father-son relationship that never was, The Wall takes as its central concern the almost 800 km barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. The two-hander, starring Eric Carte and Duncan-Clyde Watkinson, opened at the New End Theatre on 26 April and runs until 6 June.

Here, the show's writer, Doug Watkinson, whose father was killed in Israel before he had a chance to get to know his son, tells us about what inspired him to bring this family drama to life on stage.

Some years ago I visited my father’s grave in Israel. He was a British soldier, killed by the Stern Gang in 1947, so I never knew the man and certainly didn’t expect to be affected by finding his last resting place. When I did, and for reasons I still can’t fully explain, I broke down.

Regaining my composure, I asked myself the question which lies at the heart of The Wall. If my father were to walk in through that gate right now, what would he say to me? What would I say to him? My son, the actor Duncan-Clyde Watkinson, persuaded me to make a stage play out of that imagined conversation.

It might have been another Midsomer Murders script, or a book ­– I can’t remember ­what I was working on at the time ­­– I just know that I found reasons to put off getting started. However, looming over all my excuses was the barrier wall between Israel and Palestine. It was becoming impossible to speak of Israel, let alone write about it, without acknowledging the wall and its terrifying impact on Arabs and Jews alike.

In terms of the play to be written, it provided a perfect opportunity for the young father and his middle-aged son, a means by which they could bond. A character whom we never meet – though his presence is profoundly felt – will soon have to quit his job because of the wall: it has turned a 20-minute walk to work into a two-hour slog. The man is an elderly Arab. I met him when I visited the British Military cemetery in Ramleh. His predicament is both real and symbolic.

Two years on I was still finding reasons not to write the play, but as the wall, the real wall, grew ever longer, ever uglier, so I became ever more offended. At first I wasn’t sure why but gradually a question posed itself. Could it be that the Israelis, members of such a clever, courageous and compassionate race, were doing to the Palestinians exactly what had been done to their own forefathers in Europe in the thirties? Walling them off? Was nobody daring to say as much for fear of being branded anti-semitic?

I felt that my father's death – or, more accurately, my mother’s insistence that his death was simply a casualty of war, no blame attached – gave me the right to comment. In a strange way it would be disrespectful to all concerned not to have done so.

I know, of course, that my young father and his middle-aged son can do very little to bring down the wall. However, I know this as well: be its purpose to create a ghetto, divide a city or country, or incarcerate those we fear, no wall lasts forever. It has something to do with a basic design flaw and while walls may provide a passing security they invariably end up imprisoning the people who build them.


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