JAMES MACNAMARA is left in two states of mind over a play that addresses the fallout of British Imperialism in the Middle East.
Corpus Playroom, 1st-5th November, 7pm, £6/£5
Written and dir. Siân Docksey
I wanted this play to give me a swift kick in the pants. It gave me something. A light tickle across the buttocks, perhaps. But I left thinking that more could have been said and done – I could have been made to think about things. Previously I’ve been too much of a coward and a pessimist to do that.
That’s not to say I wanted something that was belligerently anti-Israel/Palestine/creamy England. I just expected a little bit more discomfort, more difficult realisations. The potential was there, certainly. Siân Docksey’s script is deft, poetic, and sensitive. The lovely opening sequence, in which all actors are onstage sharing a densely textured discourse on the comings and goings of Jerusalem – the market stalls, the colour and the dust – was magical. It demonstrated an attention to the sound, the crunch of words that is still too rare in contemporary dramatic writing.
The opening scene also contained the play’s most poignant and intelligent observations – “What’s mine is yours, but that bit’s ours /and we’re different – /the difference is: we’re right”. These lines are shared and broken, like Israel-Palestine itself, and they encapsulate very simply and intelligently the arbitrariness of it all, the indoctrination, the untold silliness that leads to hatred and death. I thought it was the most touching exchange of the play.
We are then offered a glimpse into the lives of a group of Armenians living in 1946 Jerusalem under the British mandate, bookended by some accomplished, but not strictly necessary drumming from an aloof Lawrence Dunn. The dialogue between the sisters was witty and fairly fluid, but I yearned for more poetry, more shocks.
Lydia Morris-Jones was excellent as Anoush, survivor of the King David Hotel Bombing and love interest to a perpetually proposing British officer. In the exchanges with her beau she was girlish yet robust, and in the challenging scene under the rubble she never strayed into melodrama; she was gritty and real and affecting throughout.
Holly Marsden has big, interesting eyes, but here they were a bit glassy, a bit glazed, there wasn’t enough warmth or sisterly disapproval to make her exchanges really engaging. Emma Powell was also excellent, she had a sort of sororal naughtiness that made her everyday conversations with Anoush sparkle. She took ownership of every scene she was in.
Now, everyone knows that Sam Curry and Hugh Wyld are talented and accomplished actors. But they are both a sort of very ‘Cambridge’ performer: R.P. to-die-for and damn good teeth. In Quake they seemed out of place. Wyld was occasionally charming, but his constant smile, that borderline gurning, became saccharine and distracting.
Curry was good, but at times slightly wooden – some of his lines could have been really menacing, but generally, it was played safe. With more grit, more anger and confusion and warmth, the cast might have revealed more of the script’s subtleties; it was an opportunity that was sadly missed.
This is undoubtedly a uniquely ambitious play – it is based on real events, real people, and is relevant to some of the most difficult issues on the planet. The directing was also ambitious: utilising some well-organised physical theatre to take us through the collapse of The King David Hotel, into future domestic squabbles, and back again.
I have no doubt that Siân Docksey will rock our world, my world, your world, the world, one day soon. She’s a gifted writer. Quake is touching and delicate, but it needs more, more darkness, more controversy perhaps, more kick-starts to lazy brains. I left unsure as to whose fault it all was, and is; and am still reluctant to think about it. I still suspect religion, though. This production had the opportunity to teach me something new about the world, and I can’t help but think that the opportunity was missed.