Surrounded by a growing hubbub of voices, a man insulates himself from the noise step by step, to the beat of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, dancing and letting off streams of bubbles. In this three-hander, each character relies on an arsenal of strategies to fend off the complex realities of living in Israel and Palestine. From distinct strands of different cultures woven together only by physical proximity, the men are drawn into knots by a murder case light on evidence but heavy on context, religious and social.
A Jewish archaeologist in Palestine has been murdered after visiting a Muslim household; Khalid (Philip Arditti) and Yossi (Michael Feast) come together to investigate the crime, the former a calm but somewhat emptily enigmatic antidote to Yossi’s mad energy, which surges over into rage and physical violence. In a pitch-perfect recreation of a Israeli army facility interrogation room, designed by Georgia Lowe, scuffed and soulless, the pressure of a hand on a water cooler cup dispenser rings out as gunshots; the atmosphere is one of violence barely contained by institutional blandness. The suspect Danny (Paul Rattray) is a Zionist settler who initially refuses to even answer to a Muslim investigator, his aggression underpinned by edgy vulnerability, and punctuated by surprising moments of openness. It rapidly becomes clear that the fault lines between Zionism and agnostic Judaism run deep, while Islam and Judaism share enough to be similarly vulnerable to investigation and interrogation.
Even if it isn’t always reflected in the distribution of lines, this is really Yossi’s show; he’s the charismatic centre of a discussion of the position of a liberal American Israeli, asking questions in an atmosphere of religious certainty. Aptly named, the show is heavy on facts. Shot through with moments of whimsical humour, its interrogation structure mostly delivers on tension, but although there are plenty of interesting revelations, there are fewer breakneck twists and turns than might be expected from a psychological drama. Sometimes it feels like we a lot of we find out is told, not seen, like Khalid’s experience of the West Bank, which we hear almost entirely through Yossi’s, not his own, frustration. Similarly, the lack of delineation between the speaking of Hebrew and Arabic effaces the power dynamics inherent in the languages, which should place Khalid and Danny at linguistic disadvantages in turn, and are crucial to setting the cultural parameters of the discussions that follow – the text could benefit from an injection of Hebrew and Arabic words and phrases.
After an effervescent beginning, this play is largely serious fare, genuinely informative, especially on the archaeological research into the Exodus. A measured production, it could stand to take a few more risks, to push deeper and go darker, but it still satisfies by picking a sensitive path through thorny ground, with some fascinating viewpoints along the way.