Playwright counters anti-Israel play

Richard Stirling pens 'Seven Other Children,' a response to pro-Gaza play 'Seven Jewish Children.'

seven jewish children play 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
seven jewish children play 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A British playwright and author angered by a controversial play written to protest Israel's operation in Gaza has written a theatrical response. Richard Stirling penned "Seven Other Children," which this week began a two-week run at the New End Theater in Hampstead, northwest London. After seeing "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza," which was performed at the prestigious Royal Court Theater in west London in February, Stirling felt it was "dangerously one-sided" and said he had been "disturbed" by its ideas. "It was immaculately produced, but the content was dangerously one-sided to anyone not convinced of its political or even humanitarian premise," he told The Jerusalem Post. Written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, a pro-Palestinian activist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza" was met with widespread fury in both the theater world and Jewish community, with charges that it was anti-Semitic. A non-Jew, Stirling was one of those who questioned the content of the play. "In less than 10 minutes, Churchill conflated criticism of the government of Israel with polemic about Israelis and Jews in general," he said. "The play, after all, was called Seven Jewish Children, not Seven Israeli Children. And the speedy connection between pre-World War II Jews as victims of the Nazis and present-day Israelis as the oppressors of the Middle East was one that I, a non-Jew, was not prepared to make." In a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph newspaper in February, some 60 members of Britain's Jewish community said the play demonized Israelis by reinforcing false stereotypes. Churchill was unrepentant. "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza, it's a way of helping the people there," she said. "Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme." Stirling's play, written as a theatrical response to "Seven Jewish Children," uses the same format and vernacular, seeking to provide context to the debate. "The tragedy of the situation in Gaza is anything but one-sided or sectarian," the New End Theatre said in a statement. "'Seven Other Children' is written not in its own right, but to show a dimension overlooked by recent plays on the subject: the tragedy of the Palestinian child as victim of a distorted education about Israel and the crescendo of hate that continues to grow." "The incomplete narrative of Churchill's declared 'political event' was taken by Stirling to demand a response, particularly in the light of Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cook's statement that no balance is required: 'Are A Doll's House or King Lear fair?'," the statement said. Meanwhile, the organizers of a fringe festival in Liverpool staging a production of "Seven Jewish Children" later this month are considering a request to stage "Seven Other Children" alongside it after a number of complaints by the Jewish community. Madeline Heneghan, development coordinator for the "Writing on the Wall" festival, taking place this month, told the Post she had asked the festival's trustees for permission to stage "Seven Other Children" and was awaiting their response.