On the back wall of a tiny room in West London, a telephone hangs patiently next to the door; to the left is a shelf on which a silver fan stands, and adjacent a two-way mirror. In the centre of the room is a table scattered with paper and files.
It is here, on the stage turned interrogation room of the Finborough Theatre that Palestinian police officer Khalid, played by Philip Arditti and Israeli officer Yossi performed by Michael Feast, attempt to solve the murder of a famous American archaeologist in Hebron, a city in the Occupied West Bank of Palestine.
That the victim questioned the credibility of the Old Testament – and thus the very foundation of Israeli claims to the holy land – provides an obvious motive for murder. As the play points out, a lack of proof for the Exodus would cast doubt on the entire basis of the Zionist movement.
When the suspect, American settler Danny (Paul Rattray), appears for questioning, he refuses to recognize Khalid’s authority. Danny ignores his questions, addressing himself only to Yossi, the Israeli detective. But Yossi does little to contain his hatred of Danny and the ideology he represents.
Meanwhile, Khalid emerges as an honourable, intelligent character. Though frustrated by the implications of Danny’s beliefs, and the consequences the settler movement has had on his life, he restrains from making rash decisions or exercising revenge on him.
It is a relief to watch a production in which the Muslim character does not play the hostile bad guy, terrorist, or the closet suicide bomber who nice on the outside, but on the inside secretly plotting to blow up the Pentagon. Argo and Homeland are two recent examples of shows that have enforced these negative stereotypes.
The script is good, but at times hard to follow, and the actors’ lines are occasionally eclipsed by their own complexity. As the interactions between the three characters unfold, they are perhaps a microcosm of the relationship between America, Israel and Palestine, and the roles they play in the real conflict, in the real world.
The characters themselves go some way towards representing the range of beliefs that exist in Israel and Palestine today: the extreme, devout settler who believes the secular Israeli to be a traitor; the non-religious Israeli who sympathises with the Palestinian plight; and the Palestinian himself, who is often delayed at checkpoints, despite being a figure of authority.
Considering the wealth of academic books and factual documentaries that address the Palestine Israel conflict, it is refreshing to watch a dramatisation that tries to make some kind of sense of this complex issue; and at times injects lightening humour into a devastating situation.
Crowded around the tiny stage, five to a bench, spectators on the front row of Facts are touching distance from the characters and the struggle they represent. As the tension rises between Danny, Khalid and Yossi, the culmination of years and years of fruitless negotiations and frustrating outcomes are played out before them.
Facts is playing until Saturday 23rd March at the Finborough Theatre
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.