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Acting Alone

12 July 15 words: Molly Coffey
The one woman show that took the Neville Studio, Nottingham Playhouse, by storm
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image: Playhouse

“I’m just an actor” Ava Hunt announces, standing half-way up the auditorium stairs after house lights dim. This is the same woman who welcomed me into Nottingham Playhouse’s Neville Studio, embracing and waving to friends, pacing around the auditorium, locating available seats as it filled with excited spectators. She is an independent artist based in the East Midlands, focused on creating stimulating, educational theatre, and tonight she will take 200 people on a journey through the refugee camps of Palestine.

In 2013, Ava and her crew visited Palestine with the intention of returning with a theatre piece based on Michael Morpurgo’s The Kites are Flying, after being awarded an Arts Council England Grant, and instead returned with their own stories they wanted to tell. After the visit and a period of scripting and development, the play was performed at Derby Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse and a number of East Midlands Schools. The storytelling we are witnessing tonight will be a new, more stripped back theatrical style that reflects her experiences in the West Bank.

Before beginning however, Ava has some interesting activities she’d like us to undertake, as she asks us to switch on the plastic lanterns under our seats and distributes a list of quotes by writers, peace activists, actors and philosophers, who were a source of inspiration for her story telling. We’re invited to rip off and take home the quotes that strike a chord, using a ruler – which she expects returned! -. to tear off our quotes.

Dressed in a loose v neck and colourless trousers, she predicts our expectation of elaborate costume and set design. “Is that it?” she reckons we’re all thinking regarding the curiously bare studio featuring only a table upstage left, where a glass of water, ball of string and candle lie. Ava’s feet are firmly on the ground and she does well to consistently remind us throughout the performance.

Directly addressing the audience, Ava intelligently describes her visit to a Palestinian children’s theatre festival and the caution her and director Tilly Branson were forced to take to remain undiscovered as researchers, rather than British tourists. Ava mirrors these nerve racking experiences that made her heart pump and palms sweat with the feeling she gets as an actor on stage. She exposes and explains the enormous pressure an actor feels to do the injustice justice, and the artist’s guilt that their creative work is a selfish act and bid for attention. Clearly, Ava is dealing with her own conscience after witnessing a conflict which dramatically affects innocent people on both sides.

Thought-provoking reflections of the exhibition feature several characters who she brings to life with accents and gesture, whilst the lighting (Ben Dew/Leann Dawkes) and sound (Andy Purves) sensitively conjure up the place and time and help distinguish one story from the other. They are sophistically fused with the frequently amusing challenges Ava has faced in the acting profession, including a humiliating bath scene for a women’s ageing soap commercial which she admits to have shamefully accepted for the money.

Stories of brave and engaging people, including an Israeli-British trooper from Birmingham serving his conscripted 4 years on the Israeli checkpoint, are woven with comparably heroic stories. Ava pays homage to the Polish social worker, Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazi death camps during the Second World War. It is clear from the onset that Ava posses a strong moral code and beneath the frantic gestures of an emotional actor lies a peaceful, nurturing centre from which she speaks powerful words of wisdom with an extraordinary level of understanding.

Ava challenges us to explore both the dark and light of the human spirit as she re-enacts the death of Rachel Corrie - a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003 while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the homes of Palestinian families from demolition. A ritual of parables occur throughout the play and act as glue between the diverse yet morally akin stories; Ava ritually lights a candle prior to, and sips water following, each parable. She delicately explores what it is to experience fear, and asks whether courageous heroines, such as Rachel Corrie, were in fact fearless, or if fear was the very thing that made them brave as they overcame it and devoted themselves to a higher entity. Ava unwittingly demonstrates a similar beautiful nature: strength as a result of a willingness to expose oneself and be vulnerable.

More than just story-telling, more than a play; quite an experience from just an actor.

Acting Alone was at Nottingham Playhouse Friday 3 July 2015.

Ava Hunt website

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