Daniel Nelson

Congratulations, yet again, Finborough Theatre. It stages consistently inventive productions of consistently interesting plays. Here’s another: 'Returning to Haifa'.

It’s about an important issue: Palestine and Israel.

Returning to Haifa

Returning to Haifa

Image by Finborough Theatre

It’s an 80-minute adaptation from a work by one of Palestine’s best-known novelists, Ghassan Kanafani, who was assassinated in Beirut apparently by a Mossad car bomb.

The adaptation was originally commissioned by New York’s Public Theater but was abandoned after political pressure from the board.

This production is a long-overdue world premiere.

And if all that’s not fascinating enough, it’s based on a intensely theatrical idea:  a Palestinian couple’s long-lost son turns up two decades later in the house they lost when Israeli forces ethnically cleansed the area after the 1947 UN vote to partition British-administered Palestine into an Arab-Jewish state. The house is occupied by an elderly Jewish Israeli woman and the boy she has raised – the couple’s son. And when he finally comes onto the stage he’s wearing an Israeli army uniform.

How will he react to the mother who gave birth to him? And to the woman who brought him up and told him of his antecedents only three years ago? How will he react to the confrontation?

Ok, it’s an artificially forced set-up. It’s even more of a set-up when you know that the couple’s other son is joining the armed struggle against Israel.

But, hey, this is drama. It’s meant to be exciting and absorbing. It nearly isn’t. It makes too much use of that hard-to-handle device of half-sentences that are meant to show real speech but which all-too-frequently become unconvincingly mannered. And the dad tells an anecdote that’s meant to be enthrallingly meaningful but nearly drags the scene to a halt.

So, no, Returning to Haifa isn’t perfect, but it’s informative (how many people in this country have any knowledge of the events of 1947 (or of 1967 and its aftermath, come to that?), and it’s a provocative story (which is crying out for an imaginative sequel showing what might have happened in the years that followed). And it's humane, and, unusually, told from a Palestinian perspective.

* Also running this month at Finborough is Checkpoint Channa,  a 70-minute play about a controversy over a poem inspired by an incident on the Israeli border that is widely perceived to be anti-Semitic.

+ 17 March, post-show Q&A with playwright Naomi Wallace and Robin Kelley on  the connection between Palestine and black liberation in the US and how they have influenced each other’s work

* Returning to Haifa is at the Finborough Theatre, Finborough Roadf, SW10, until  24 March.   Info: 0844 847 1652/ admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk/ www.finboroughteatre.co.uk/

blog comments powered by Disqus