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The Theatreguide.London Review

Not Quite Jerusalem
Finborough Theatre     Spring 2020

Paul Kember's 1980 drama (here in a 1982 revision) is a play set in Israel that is about Britain, and the Jerusalem unachieved is both the geographical city and Blake's idealised vision for England.

As both drama and social commentary it is very much of its time, though little enough has changed to keep it just as resonant today.

Modern Israel has always invited foreign volunteers to working holidays on a kibbutz, or co-operative agricultural community. Some are young Jews doing their part for the country, some idealists drawn to the experiment in localised socialism, some just passing through in their travels.

Not Quite Jerusalem presents four young Brits who are not quite sure why they are there and lets them discover their various answers. Not-quite-spoiler alert: some will decide to stay while at least one will realise the need to go back home.

There are also the two Israelis who are their hosts, work managers and – unofficially – guides in the journeys of self-discovery.

Each of the four – a Cambridge drop-out, two working class blokes and a psychologically fragile young woman – felt uncomfortable at home and didn't know what they wanted instead.

When eventually verbalised, their reasons sound very much of 1980 – a divided nation run by a distant elite, no sense of national identity or pride, a feeling of being disconnected from their own culture and country.

But the play's political element is far less interesting than its human stories as the quartet struggle to explain to themselves, much less others, why they are discontent, and find the answers only as the alternative life of the kibbutz either does or does not offer them what they need.

Indeed, the moments when one or another finally gets to verbalize their feelings and hungers are the weakest in the play, while the most touching and telling are those in which we watch the healing process quietly taking place.

Unusually for the Finborough, whose tiny stage always seems to expand to fit any production, Peter Kavanagh's staging occasionally feels cramped and physically ill-at-ease. But the director does succeed in keeping the focus where it belongs, on the interior journeys of the characters, and to draw strong performances from some of the cast.

As the Israeli woman who has seen too many tourists pass through the kibbutz experience without fully appreciating it, Alisa Joy conveys a sharp intelligence blended with unwavering commitment while still keeping the character human and sympathetic.

Ryan Whittle takes what could be a cliché, the privileged college boy trying to find himself, and makes us believe and care about the real struggle and pain of his journey. Russell Bentley invests the older kibbutz leader with the requisite maturity, wisdom and understanding of the degree to which the kibbutz exists to help the volunteers as much as they are there to help it.

Some aspects of Not Quite Jerusalem may feel a little dated. But the human experiences at its centre still ring true.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Not Quite Jerusalem - Finborough Theatre 2020