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A CurtainUp London London Review
Holy Warriors

"Your fractured church needed a war to unite it." — Saladin
Holy Warriors
Alexander Siddig as Saladin (Photo: Mars Brenner)
David Eldridge has written an epic play for the outdoor space that is Shakespeare's Globe on the history of the Crusades and the impact on the area forming the battles of the twentieth and twenty first century. This kaleidoscopic view of the history of Jerusalem is dense, detailed but illuminating. Eldridge describes his play as A Fantasia on the Third Crusade and the History of Violent Struggle in the Holy Lands.

The play opens with a Saracen song and dance, whirling dervish style with the curved swords of the Arabs, and with beautiful costumes and turbans. Saladin the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (Alexander Siddig) is portrayed as more religiously tolerant than the Christians who have destroyed all of the Muslim holy places in the city. However when he captures Jerusalem and spares King Guy of Jerusalem (Daniel Rabin), there is no mercy shown to the Crusader knights who have their throats cut.

In response the Third Crusade is launched under Richard the Lionheart with the French and the backing of the Pope. Richard's mother Eleanor of Acquitaine (Geraldine Alexander) wishes to march into Jerusalem and we come to understand that each Christian believes their soul will be saved if they go on a successful crusade.

Suddenly in the midst of this history of the twelfth century, we switch at the end of Act One to a modern day American President Carter (Ignatius Anthony) negotiating with President Begin of Israel (Alexander Siddig).

At the beginning of Act Two, Richard the Lionheart and his mother Eleanor are in purgatory because they didn't reach Jerusalem. We recognize modern day figures from Napoleon (Sean Jackson) in the nineteenth century, to twentieth century Lawrence of Arabia (Jolyon Coy) and King Faisal (Satya Bhabba) as Palestine is carved up in 1918 by the Balfour Declaration. There are predictions for civil war in Palestine made in 1918 which have amazing resonance almost a hundred years later.

Golda Meir (Sirine Saba) will later head the state of Israel and in 1946 we see the bombing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem by Zionists. Blair (Philip Correia) and Bush (Paul Hamilton) will intervene in the 1990s. We return in modern dress to the 1189 Battle of Acer.

Mike Britton's beautiful design for the floor of The Globe is taken from a manuscript of the day, in oranges and burnt umber Arabic colours. To add to the atmosphere I could smell incense burning.

There is a stand out powerful performance from John Hopkins as Richard, all bravado and single minded pursuit. His wife Bergaria (Sirine Saba) is peculiarly assertive. Alexander Siddig's handsome Saladin is also a revelation as a charismatic leader. The Globe stages the battle scenes with great conviction as the parallels are drawn between the British and French Crusaders in modern dress to resonate with the twentieth century. This merging of history continues as Saladin/Begin talks about tanks. We see too the squabbling of the English and the French, not over a Crusade but over the mandate.

In an auspicious but accidental moment as an American President talks about aircraft, planes fly over the open air Globe. Holy Warriors is ambitious, more challenging and less humorous than many of the Globe productions but I feel that I have a better understanding of the conflict after watching James Dacre's production.

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Holy Warriors
Written by David Eldridge
Directed by James Dacre

Starring: Geraldine Alexander, John Hopkins, Alexander Siddig
With:Ignatius Anthony, Peter Bankole, Satya Bhabba, Jonathan Bonnici, Philip Correia, Jolyon Coy, Kammy Darweish, Paul Hamilton, Rosie Hilal, Sean Jackson, Sean Murray, Daniel Rabin, Sirine Saba, Merit Ariane Stephanos, Obioma Ugoala, Andy Ajiz, Nadir Dernaika
Designer: Mike Britton
Choreographer: Georgina Lamb
Composer: Elena Langer
Fights: Terry King
Running time: Two hours hour 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7902 1400
Booking to 24th August 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd July 2014 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT (Tube: London Bridge/St Pauls)
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