BWW Review: NOT QUITE JERUSALEM, Finborough Theatre
Paul Kember's Not Quite Jerusalem received huge critical acclaim following its premiere at the Royal Court in 1980. Forty years on, the Finborough Theatre have chosen to revive the play as part of their own 40th anniversary celebrations.Set in 1979, the play centres around four young British volunteers who travel to Israel to work at a Jewish kibbutz. The small farming community offers food and board to international visitors in exchange for labour. Hoping to escape the doom and gloom of England for sunshine, booze and sex, the group soon find living in the kibbutz is far different than they'd imagined.
Friction quickly develops between the group and those who live in the community, as they struggle to relate to each other. Pete (Ronnie Yorke) and Dave (Joe McArdle) cause offence with their laddish, disrespectful behaviour, while uptight Carrie (Miranda Braun) finds their uncouth comments repellant. Fellow volunteer Mike (Ryan Whittle) also struggles to connect with his new surroundings. He repeatedly clashes with Gila, an Israeli soldier who has chosen to spend her last year of military service working in the kibbutz.
Gila (played by Alisa Joy) is a no-nonsense local who has a low opinion of Mike and pretty much any "young English person" she comes into contact with. In response, Mike seizes several opportunities to insult Gila about her limited English vocabulary. Their struggle to understand each other, and eventual romance, becomes the central focus of the play.
The direction by Peter Kavannagh is clear and concise, while the set and lighting design (Ceci Calf and Ryan Joseph Stafford respectively) make excellent use of the small space at the Finborough. Swift scene changes and clever music choices further enhance the effect.
The cast are strong, and work well to evoke the cramped yet isolated kibbutz. Russell Bentley gives an engaging and passionate performance as Ami (a senior member of the community), navigating some complex emotional moments with admirable skill. A scene in which he encourages Dave to make the most of his life, rather than wasting it on frivolity and sunbathing, is particularly touching. McArdle also shines in this exchange - his portrayal of the frustrated, ignorant Dave is truly heartbreaking.
Alisa Joy is thoroughly convincing as the headstrong Gila, handling both comedic and emotional moments with equal command. Miranda Braun also provides many delightful moments as Carrie. However, her heightened comedic delivery is sometimes at odds with the more naturalistic style of those acting opposite her.
Although written 40 years ago, Not Quite Jerusalem and its exploration of the British disregard for opposing cultures still feels relevant today. Given the recent events surrounding Brexit, this production serves as a reminder of how little our society has progressed. The Finborough's latest production proves thought-provoking and timely, with much to say about our past (and present) attitudes to 'otherness'. A wise choice for the venue, and a great achievement from all involved.
Not Quite Jerusalem at the Finborough Theatre until 28 March Photo credit: Kirsten McTernan