40 years since the original production, Finborough Theatre revives Paul Kember’s 1980 play Not Quite Jerusalem. It’s set in 1979 and looks at what it is to be young and English at this time, however we find many of the play’s concerns are still pertinent today.
The plays begin as Carrie, Mike, Dave and Pete arrive in Israel to volunteer working on a kibbutz, a socialist farming commune. The way of life here is based around shared contribution, but the English newcomers – with the exception of the overly-keen Carrie (Miranda Braun) – put little effort into the work and are disinterested in their social responsibilities there. It’s clear none of them has given any real thought to their choice to join the kibbutz and has either ended up there on a whim or, as in the case of the immature and laddish Pete (Ronnie Yorke) and Dave (Joe McArdle), for sex and a free holiday.
Key themes of ‘Englishness’ and cultural difference are examined in the play. Mike (Ryan Whittle) starts a romance with Gila (Alisa Joy), a Jewish girl completing her final year of national service on the kibbutz. She has a pretty negative view of the English, repeating ‘you english’ to express her annoyance at the laziness and apathetic attitudes of the volunteers. Later on, we see a more wilful form of disrespect from the English group through a heated argument between Dave and Gila, in which Dave shows his outright and shameless ignorance towards Israel’s history.
Whittle and Joy convincingly portray their respective characters who are dissimilar in personality but work well as a couple; Mike is analytical and hypersensitive to life’s uncertainties, whereas Gila is straight-talking and uninhibited. They have a sweet relationship you want to root for, however, it’s strained at times by Mike’s highly entitled frustration with Gila’s lack of fluency which he feels this limits his ability to express himself.
Kember’s writing is brilliant and markedly authentic, and for a play largely made up of everyday conversation, the small venue of Finborough Theatre provides the ideal space for us to watch the characters talk on this level. Ceci Calf’s set design effectively conveys the agricultural setting and Ryan Joseph Stafford’s lighting conveys the scorching intensity of the spring sun.
The play is also about a British youth who feel disenfranchised by politics and disconnected to their country. Mike is the most visibly despondent and laments how a small few “decide everything.” As Volunteers’ Day approaches – an occasion intended for the volunteers of different nationalities to share an aspect of their countries’ cultures – the English group blame their lack of preparedness on their being English: the other groups draw easily upon distinct traditions from their home countries, but the English can’t identify anything in their country that is recognisable or meaningful to them. But as well as political reasons for feeling a lack of belonging, what also comes through in this production is the more universal idea of a search for purpose during the transition to adulthood.
The performances are strong and believable all round; however, Alisa Joy provides the stand-out performance in her role as Gila. Russell Bentley also gives a touching performance as Ami, the gentle paternal figure who tries to show them the importance of participation in the community, and more widely of embracing life’s experiences with an open mind. This production explores important themes that definitely require further interrogation in society today.
- By Paul Kember
- Director: Peter Kavanagh
- Cast includes: Joe McArdle, Ryan Whittle, Miranda Braun, Ronnie Yorke, Russell Bentley, Alisa Joy
- Finborough Theatre
- Until 28th March 2020
- Running time: Approx. 2hrs 30 minutes (including interval of 15 minutes)