Nineveh, directed by Ailin Conant and written by Julia Pascal, is a “physical show” inspired by the testimonies of international soldiers. The show is based on Ailin Conant’s work with ex-fighters, peace activists, veterans and child soldiers from Lebanon, Rwanda, Israel and Kashmir, as part of The Return Project. Conant is also the Artistic Director of Theatre Témoin. I went to see it on Thursday 18th of April, together with film director Joe de Kadt.

The set up is intimate: The audience is close to the stage, made up of ropes, chains and spiky metal objects that reminded me of the empty shells of rockets a friend in Lebanon has displayed by his fire place for bitter comedic effect, as a reminder of the civil war. Men march in and the beginning of this show is, indeed, physical, like a ballet, which feels a little too theatrical at times. They also banter and I recognise and enjoy the typical Israeli/Arab style of humour. Like the audience, they are trying to puzzle together where they are and why they’re here.

The banter relieves the tension of the harrowing stories, which are not told by storytellers, because soldiers aren’t good at telling coherent stories in the artistic or academic sense. We are being provided with an accurate portrayal of how experiences are remembered and shared. It reminded me of the research by Martin Euwema, who interviewed Dutch soldiers in Iraq: No, they don’t think about their cultural values. Yes, the do care about the brand of peanut butter available in the camp. Less mundane, but similarly surprising to the audience are the concerns of the men in Nineveh: their family, having ambitions to make it big one day, drive a certain car perhaps. It begs the questions: Can anyone love when there’s a war? Are they supposed to dream about seemingly frivolous things? If they, as individuals, commit cruel acts against another person, who is responsible? How do they themselves decide on their fate? Nineveh may make you fold your arms and frown when you listen to and witness inner turmoil.

The audience has the responsibility to allow the stories to sink in. It cannot be judged with a mind that wants a more coherent narrative or happy ending, because that is just not the reality of soldiers’ experiences. Nineveh is a physical and verbal relay of cruel acts that humans inflict upon fellow humans, relieved with dark comedy – A must-see.

Nineveh is on at Riverside Studios, London until May 11
May 3 Post Show talk Playwright Julia Pascal and Director Ailin Conant about ‘The Return’ Project, a year’s creative work in Kashmir, Israel, Lebanon and Rwanda that preceded the play

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