If you ever get the opportunity to see a play called Crusades (also known as Crossfire) by Michel Azama run, don’t walk – in the opposite direction as fast as possible, screaming “No, no, no! You can’t make me!".

I’d say the play had its heart in the right place, except that the heart of this play is spread all over the stage in sundered limbs and gobbets of blood, as characters relentlessly monologue about the various war atrocities they have been subject to, witnessed or committed. The message (which is very clear by, at most, 10 minutes into a 90 minute play) being that in a state of war, atrocity becomes normality. Unfortunately, the endless parade of horrors has more the effect of desensitisation to that message, than it does of reinforcing it.

The action is set in a Jerusalem that shifts in time and is watched over by a long-dead elderly couple whose job is to inform the newly dead that they have, well, passed on. And, with one exception (the angel of death, who has never been alive) everyone we see in the play is dead by the end of it. I’d apologise for the spoiler, if it wasn’t for the fact that you are painfully well aware that this is what will happen from about 12 lines in to scene one where the young boy who opens the play is blown up by a bomb in a toy truck as the old couple laugh, and his playmate (who we first see tearing a Barbie doll to pieces, because this reflects the scenes she has witnessed in the war around her), is gunned down shortly after.

The characters are:

The gatekeepers who usher the dead into death.

The Angel of Death who watches laughing and who apparently wants to crush the world between her thighs.

Two children, unnamed, who die in scene one, as described above.

Renaud, a woodcutter who, before being killed, took part in the “Christian Celebrations” when the early crusaders took Jerusalem. These celebrations apparently included dashing out the brains of Saracen babies against rocks.

Mother Hen, who has been travelling towards Jerusalem for 800 years, having set off in the wake of her 14 children who joined the Children’s Crusade. When she arrives, she is horrified by the carnage she finds there.

Ismail, Yonathon, Krim and Bella. Teenagers living in modern-day Jerusalem. Ismail and Krim are Muslim, Yonathon and Bella, Jewish. It doesn’t end well for any of them.

A woman, buried alive in the mud.

An Indian Untouchable, dying after a missile attack on the oil tanker he was working on.

Zack, a devout US soldier killed in an explosion, and coming to terms with the fact there is no heaven.

Bella and Ismail’s unborn child, who dies after Ismail shoots Bella, an hour before the child is due to be born.

Is there any humour? Well a very small amount, if you like your humour on the dark side of black; it is provided to the gatekeepers only, however. Is there any hope? Not an iota. The piece is unremittingly grim, and the structure of monologue after monologue with only minimal interaction except in the relationship of the old folk, is rather like being lectured in an unvarying scream.

I saw a very well done production of this play: the performances, staging, sound and costume were terrific, but nothing can save this train-wreck. That is a pity, because the message is too important to destroy by turning it into a bludgeon to assault an audience with.

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