The year is 2043. Reem and her husband Sayeed are here to perform a ‘Serious Play about Palestine”. That is, according to one of the publicity blurbs.
But is it?
The small upstairs theatre at the Royal Court is noisy and a party atmosphere greets the audience. Music fills the space and there is dancing. The audience is invited to join in. The joyful interlude is interrupted within a minute or two by Reem, who has a microphone. Sayeed hands her a piece of paper, a note from the playwright informing us that the play we are about to see is not:
The audience is instructed what to make of the performance. We are told this is “a serious play about Palestine: no one is allowed to laugh – fuck you, go home, have some respect – of course, you can laugh.”
All this is before the show ‘officially’ actually starts.
Reem and Sayeed are two narrators. Reem dominates the Palestinian narrative and Sayeed attempts to counter-balance her militant views. Both enjoy dogging and both share pain – their daughter, Loubna, was shot by a stray or intentional (unclear) bullet from an Israeli soldier.
The main artery at the heart of the play is violence: the murder of an Israeli female soldier, Sara Yadin, by Sayeed’s cousin Jawad and the death of the couple’s beloved daughter Loubna. Jawad is eventually caught, tried, and sentenced. Eventually, he is released and becomes a hero. His greatest achievement is brutally murdering an Israeli soldier. His sister, Salwa, who did not participate in the murder of Sara Yadin, is later shot dead by Israeli forces when found near the body of the victim. She is told to keep her hands up, but instead, she reaches into her pocket to pull out the murdered Sara Yadin’s ID. She is hailed as an ‘inspiration’ to Palestinians. She is another Palestinian martyr.
Sara Yadin’s father, Adam, played by Philip Mogilnitsky, portrays a confused and possibly traumatised Adam. After the murder of his daughter, he appears (we are told) on Israeli television arm in arm with Bibi Netanyahu, the ex-Israeli Prime Minister. The year is 2043. Bibi would be 94 years of age at this point, but no matter. Adam is eventually caught dogging with the Palestinians because he wants to ‘fuck them’. Sexual intercourse appears to be a metaphor for enjoyable punishment. Even Reem declares: ‘Sometimes I wish some Israelis would turn up [to the Thursdays dogging], cos I’d sling-on a strap-on and fuck them so hard they’ll know what it’s like to get occupied.”
Sayeed, well-performed by Miltos Yerolemou, is the voice of moderation, and Reem is convincingly played by the Syrian actress, Hala Omran. Luca Kamleh Chaman offers an amateur performance of Jawad. It’s possible that it might be a strong performance of a young and confused Palestinian who is uncertain of what to do and how to do it but does not convince. Sofia Danu’s Salwa is well portrayed.
The play attempts to stage its title metaphor – ‘going dogging’. Yes, Palestinians, and not just two, but more than four or five, each wearing a balaclava reach out towards Sayeed whose trousers have been pulled down, and he, standing in his underpants, is the desired object.
The other incident which features in the play as a metaphor involves Tariq, amusingly performed by Joe Haddad. He is caught in barbed wire on the roof of a settler’s house. He grew to like his new ‘home’. Reem considers her duty to put an end to his life. Is he a traitor to the Palestinian cause? He has been there for many months and has become accustomed to his new condition and loves the view.
It is not clear what Sami Ibrahim’s play is about and where it is taking its audience. It is not a question of being balanced, but an issue of substance and structure. The framework includes references to social media known today, hence it is not clear why an emphasis is placed on 2043. Everything seems like an old hat that has nothing to make one think of the future. The text meanders aimlessly seemingly leading to numerous dead ends. It is as though this play is an amalgam of shorter plays within the play but none of the characters change or develop beyond their limited segment. Every character is a mouthpiece for ideas and thoughts that haven’t been properly thought through. The production was directed by Omar Elerian. The opening was a touch of good direction. Taking into account the limitations of the space and the text, Elerian’s direction is competent.
All in all, one can’t help but feel that the Royal Court’s aspirations to support up-and-coming writers could have been better expended elsewhere.
- By Sami Ibrahim
- Director: Omar Elerian
- Cast include: Luca Kamleh Chapman, Sofia Danu, Philip Mogilnitsky, Joe Haddad, Hala Omran, Mai Weisz, Miltos Yerolmou
Venue: Jerwood Theatre Upstair
- Until 1st of June 2022
- Running time: Approx. 2 hours 50 minutes, including a 20-minute interval.