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Death, revenge and al fresco group sex

two Palestinians go dogging

two Palestinians go doggingIt's 2043 and Reem and her husband Sayeed have an apparently simple life: she cooks lentils and watches Arab Idol, he sells fruit and veg and, on Thursday nights, the pair pop out for a spot of al fresco group sex on contested land under the watchful eye of Israeli snipers. In two Palestians go dogging, Sami Ibrahim's occasionally bleak and utterly brilliant play, he lays bare, in hilarious and harrowing fashion, the personal and political behind one of the most controversial conflicts in the world.

In 2019, Ibrahim won the Theatre Uncut award for Political Playwrighting for this near-future story of a Palestinian family and the series of violent events which leads to a series of all-too-avoidable tragedies. Reem (Hala Omran) and Sayeed (Miltos Yerolemou) are very different but forces of nature in their own way. She is a chest-beating hurricane of vitriol, mourning a daughter killed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and wishing painful death upon all those who threaten her family and her community while Sayeed is more like the stones that they throw at IDF soldiers: solid and stolid by nature, stoic in his grief and possessed of a pedantic cynicism which wears away at those around him.

Even though the story plays out in a time and space some way from where we are watching the play, there are constant efforts to reduce the distance. Audience members are asked to jump up and dance with the cast and the fourth wall is broken again and again. At one point, Reem asks how many of us speak Arabic; when only a few hands go up, she remarks with tongue firmly in cheek that "someone in the marketing department is going to get fired". Moreover, Ibrahim wraps up the story in metafiction letting the characters know in no uncertain terms that they are part of a story being told by a playwright who has never even been to Palestine (with Reem reacting in typically rebellious fashion).

As well as the interactive elements, Ibrahim has more plot devices up his sleeve. He sends us back and forth along the timelines, feeds us deliberately false information and reveals the elephants in the room bit by bit through twenty six named chapters (plus an epilogue) which vary hugely in length, dramatic style and content. At one point, the fate of a female IDF captive is debated and decided in a tense scene reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs ("Three Kids And A Soldier Are Stuck In The Basement"); later, the cast largely just sit around for a few minutes doing not very much while tea is served to random audience members ("The Story About Palestine In Which Israel Is Not Mentioned"). There is satire aplenty - mocking viral dances, 'do-gooder' journalists and tourists flocking to rubberneck at macabre sights - amid the death, destruction and bloody revenge.

Omran and Yerolemou are phenomenal in their roles, bringing out both the grimness and the unlikely humour in their situation. The latter makes for a fantastic straight man, grounding Reem's more apoplectic moments in his own character's comedic ways. Omar Elerian's direction is simply electric, speeding up and slowing down superbly to fit Ibrahim's text like a glove and making sure that two Palestinians never veers too far towards whimsy, violence or political commentary. The rest of the ensemble (especially Luca Kamleh Chapman as Reem and Sayeed's son Jawad and Philipp Mogilnitskiy as Adam, the father of a murdered IDF soldier) are all wonderful and give Ibrahim's vision a more rounded context.

This play will hopefully get the transfer and the further awards it deserves but, for now and for many reasons, it is might go under the cultural radar and that's a shame. It's far from the maddening West End crowd of theatres; there are no marquee names on or offstage; it's not the first play we've seen this year with a salacious title (Cock) or the first that dips into modern politics (The 47th, Scandaltown), cycles of violence (The Burnt City, Age of Rage) or conflicts caused by mass discrimination (Clybourne Park, Small Island). Despite all that, this is a stunningly insightful and entertaining play that deserves to be seen as one of the cultural high points of this year.

two Palestinians go dogging is at the Royal Court Theatre until 1 June

Image: Ali Wright

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