Olive Jar is an important community project that brings to the forefront stories of reminiscence, connection and yearning from Iraq – Assyrian, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria, Palestine, and Iraq. In typical hospitality of communities, the audience is welcomed with warm tea. The play is set in the Grand Junction inside St Mary Magdalene’s church, a fine example of Grade 1 Gothic Revival architecture. As the last rays of the setting sun light the altar, the stage lights up with a wide array of lights. The stage is covered with vibrant colours of the Middle Eastern and South African flags. One is captivated from the first moment as the actors take the stage. This was the first time some of the actresses and actors ever performed on stage!
The play is fascinating because by watching the actors’ personal stories, we touch on the universal stories that bind us in humanity. The themes move from finding recipes to reconnect with lost parents, to losing children in the war to marriage celebrations. The musicians create a mesmerising atmosphere with singer Ruba Shamshoum, Harpist Georgie Pope and talented percussionist Nuno Brito. As the actors proceeded with their stories, the musicians did a spellbinding ‘jugalbandi’ (played together) layering with vocalisations, sound effects, songs and phrases.
The olive jar often lies forgotten in our cupboards as we focus on relishing this salty, bitter and pungent accompaniment. However, in creating a ritual for each storyteller offering their olive Jar of stories in the midst of the audience, the olive jar is elevated, and we are deeply moved by the stories that stay with us long after we whiff the smell of the open jars. While some choose not to share their story, some share tiny observations from growing up, such as the comments they heard as girls about wanting to cycle. The Olive Jar provides an apt metaphor for visceral feelings that combines personal stories, food and diverse lived realities. It holds treatises on the depth of community engagement, healing, and belonging Applied Theater and techniques of playback theatre can bring. We need more experiments like the Olive Jar to be opened and shared with many more communities, audiences and tellers. ‘Shukr’ (Thank you) to Elias Matar and the team that conceptualised and implemented this unique theatre experience. Here is hoping the commendable performances of Sarah Joy Dawoud, Nasrin Trabulsi, Amal Faisal, Adam Farhat, Mairam Al- Hussona, Hafiza Ibrahim, Lana Alwaily, Ali A, Lina Alchami, Majida Jawhar, Ali, Phayaphi Alkhayoom get more opportunity to explore community led theatre and be listened closely and deeply.
Reviewer: Anisha Pucadyil
Reviewed: 7th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: