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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Crossing Jerusalem
by Ben Clover

If only they needed accordionists at funerals, then I'd have plenty of work
-- Serguei

I wanted to show patriarchy. It's about having a son, It's about jealousy, It's about land. . .I felt I should put my money where my mouth is.
---Julia Pascal, playwright and erstwhile actor and theatre director about Crossing Jerusalem.

Crossing Jerusalem is a brave play about a difficult subject that succeeds on its own terms but feels just a little unsatisfying. Playwright Julia Pascal sets out her agenda in the programme and succeeds in crafting a piece that both reflects the diversity of Israelis and brings us unexpected angles on the conflict, yet this feels oddly insufficient.

The action of the play is spread across one twenty-four hour period and follows the strains placed on an Israeli family as they cross Jerusalem for a family dinner. Both the family and the play itself are dominated by the figure of Varda, matriarch and estate agent, played with suitable weight by Suzanne Bertish. It is against her will that they make the journey to Sammy's restaurant in an Arab village outside Jerusalem, where fate and her past overtakes them.

When the whole family are sat at the table each character's symbolic role as an aspect of Israeli society becomes apparent. It seems as if Varda were trying to obscure even this clarity in her resistance to the trip. Her son, Gideon, (Adam Levy) is due to be called up for service in the Occupied Territories the next day and is having a severe crisis of faith. His wife is similarly conflicted by her longing for a son that he is unwilling to give her. Varda's other child Lee, (Miranda Pleasence) represents a generation that want to try and lead normal lives and in doing so must resist the prescriptions and ideals of her mother's generation. The most obviously symbolic character of the family is Serguei, (Constantine Gregory) Varda's second husband, a Russian immigrant and easy going believer in Israel as a promised land.

It is in these family portraits that Crossing Jerusalem works best, sparks of real insight into Israel come in scenes when the beliefs of Pascal's characters collide. Sadly the structure and dramatic action of the play doesn't match the depth and veracity of the characters. The incidents of the plot feel a little mechanical and, well, incidental, compared to the characters. It feels as if the plot happens to the characters rather than coming from them. You could say this was apt considering the constant danger of the conflict and its ability to disempower individuals. However having characters argue about the conflict is easily done onstage whereas showing it is harder to bring off.

The Tricycle stage crew do a good job and Crispian Covell's sound design brings tanks, helicopters and one loud bang to the proceedings. That the play has the same structure as the TV show 24 and director Jack Gold comes from a television background points to a piece that might have worked better on a screen than a stage.

Overall this ambitious play has much to recommend it: strong believable characters, uniformly good performances and a surprising amount of laughter. The seismic rifts through the family are well realised but the play, like them, cannot escape the wider context and it is in this broader focus that its structural failings are exposed. The play is a bold and insightful depiction of a situation dramatic enough on its own to overwhelm embellishment.

Editor's Note: Ms. Pacale's is the third play about the Arab-Israeli situation that CurtainUp reviewed.: Dirty Story by John Patrick Shanley and O Jerusalem by A.R. Gurney. The New York plays received wide press coverage.

Crossing Jerusalem
Written by Julia Pascal
Directed by Jack Gold

With: Daniel Ben-Zenou, Adam Levy, Galit Hershkovitz, Suzanne Bertish, Constantine Gregory, Miranda Pleasence, Jack Raymond, Nabil Elouahabi
Designer: Pamela Howard
Lighting Designer: Matthew Eagland
Sound: Crispian Covell for Aura
Running time: Two and a half hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 12th April 2003
Reviewed by Ben Clover based on 20th March 2003 Performance at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (Tube Station: Kilburn)

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