WHAT WE DID TO WEINSTEIN
Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1
Opened 26 September, 2005
***

I'm getting bored with plays that weigh up a complex issue of violent strife before coming to a distinct absence of conclusions; it's an admirable approach in discussion, but a timid one in drama.

Josh and Sara grew up in Jewish north London. We see their relationship begin and end in the mid-1990s, and also in fluidly intercut scenes their positions in 2002: Josh has emigrated and joined the Israeli Defence Force, Sara is a news journalist best known for her criticism of Israeli policy. Their respective fathers Josh's a famous writer, Sara's his agent speak of their own youth fighting the fascists in the East End. Josh's father's nurse is a Briton of Pakistani heritage, thoroughly westernised, while her brother is increasingly embracing Islamic fundamentalism; Sara has a one-night stand with a waiter who turns out to be a foaming racist. Every plot strand has its quota of questioning reasonableness counterpoised against forceful intolerance.

As Josh is interrogated about an incident when he detained a suspected Al-Aqsa terrorist on the West Bank, and also about his father's last story, a true account of revenge meted out to a Jewish quisling in Thirties Hackney, author Ryan Craig's theme grows clear. This is about narratives: narratives of single incidents, or of lives, or of history and religion... and about what happens when one sticks too fervently to one's own chosen narrative and even tries to force others to conform to it.

It's all done with much deliberation, both in Craig's script and Tim Supple's production. Josh Cohen as Josh really needs to learn how to sound natural when delivering a broken-off sentence, and old stagers Harry Towb and Leonard Fenton are effortlessly more commanding than any of the younger actors, but the mingling of time-streams works well, and Lemez Lovas and Yaniv Fridel's low-level soundscapes are excellently disquieting. Unsurprisingly, though, the final answer to the question of whether (as Josh recalls his father declaring) looking backwards to tribal identity is "not a fit subject" for a life-governing narrative turns out to be "well, yes and no". Craig balances all sides of his picture so scrupulously that little is discernible beyond the rigorous geometry.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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