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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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Review - Not Quite Jerusalem - Finborough Theatre 2020