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Review: The Tremors at 53two will ‘awaken your senses and ask some tough questions’

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often forgotten because of a news agenda which seems to focus on less complex news stories involving celebrities or topics which are more trivial, and therefore deemed more newsworthy because they can be broken down easily into a 6 – 8 word headline.

Nikki Mailer has managed to write a story which explores the complexities of this long-running occupation in a perfect setting; a beautiful bookshop called Al-Istiqlal, owned by Layla Hammad (Sofia Danu) who is the most wonderful storyteller herself.

The new documentary Hello, Bookstore features an owner who has a passion for stories and you watch in awe, as he engages his customers and gets them to explore books that they may have otherwise missed.

It is a world away from Amazon’s baskets and algorithms.

The same is true here, as each customer who enters Layla’s shop leaves with their imagination stoked like a fire and with a bag full of books; an escape from what is going on outside these four walls.

The smell of Arabic coffee and tea fills the air and undiscovered stories fill the shelves; fit to burst and longing for someone to pick them up and immerse themselves.

Layla is from Ramallah and she cannot move freely in and out of the West Bank without a permit.

This is occupied territory and you can see why she chooses to surround herself with stories of heroism and heartache.

Dan Pyke’s superb sound design highlights the encroaching fear that fills people’s heads, reminding them that they are living somewhere that does not belong to them.

The books are all Layla has, and she clings to them for dear life.

Avi (Ruth Lass) is a Jewish journalist seeking a perspective that she feels is missing.

She and Layla begin to have a series of conversations and find connections within their stories.

Although, Avi soon realises that many of the books feature stories that have been erased from the news or the public’s consciousness in Israel and beyond.

The Tremors is anchored by the superb storytelling of Sofia Danu, as Layla.

I found myself drawn to her character.

I felt her pain, as it is etched all over Danu’s face.

When she smokes, she barely has time to exhale, as Layla is constantly worrying about what is coming next.

Ruth Lass explores the fact that Avi knows what suffering is, through the stories that her family have told her.

But, in reality, her past is Layla’s present and there is no escape from brutality, as the plight of the Palestinians is being wiped clean from our memories and reduced to a few short news pieces where people are reduced to stereotypes to suit the narrative.

Then we can go back to eating our tea and talk about Nigel Farage’s bank account or a newsreader’s indiscretions.

Aaron Lynn’s David is an interesting character, as he is Avi’s brother and a version of him exists to her. Layla knows a completely different version and this becomes interesting and gripping, as it unfolds.

Nikki Mailer’s writing is rich with detail and I found myself keen to see where we were heading.

I loved the luminous language as it is memorable and at times beautifully sardonic.

Dylan Tate’s clever lighting design puts a spotlight on angst and the feeling that a knock at the door may be your worst fears come true.

Nadia Emam’s gift as a director is the fact, that she gives these characters the space to breathe and evolve.

There is no desire to fill in some of the gaps with scenes of violence, this sits in our minds though and remains vivid because Sofia Danu brings those aspects to life.

One scene featuring soldiers destroying the shop and the books we have heard so much about foreshadows what is to come.

The story is multi-layered and the setting of a bookshop is perfection personified, as this is a place of truth, the flip side of what people are being fed on 24-hour news channels but with a poetic beauty and a celebration of the power of imagination, as we seek for perspective.

The only flaw for me is the run time as it does restrict the depth and breadth.

At just 70 minutes in length, the time flies by and even though that is a good thing, I wanted more.

David and Avi’s reactions to what they see and hear require more nuance and conversations which twist and turn, leading you down many different paths and avenues.

As it is, The Tremors engages you and invites you to debate and discuss what you witness.

And for me, stories like this one need a stage and an audience. So this is a play that is worth seeking out and discovering.

If it were a cup of coffee, it is the type that awakens your senses and gives you something bittersweet to ponder, following some rich and intense aromas.

The Tremors is at 53two until 22nd July and can be booked here.

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