Brecht would have felt at home watching two Palestinians go dogging at the Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Studio. The techniques he devised are at the heart of Sami Ibrahim’s play and director Omar Elerian has deployed them to effectively bring the audience into the performance.
This play matters and is truly memorable.
The light-hearted approach to this most serious, tragic and delicate of topics is inherent in the title; it applies not just to dogging on a contested piece of land, but more importantly to the whole question of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As we are told, it is 'a serious play about Palestine…… and if a story about Palestine doesn’t feature a tormented examination of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is it even a story about Palestine?'
Anticipating that it might be necessary to put us all at ease as the play commences, Hala Omran enters, microphone in hand and tells us she’s going to tell us a joke, which she does, then contradicts herself. She plays Reem, the matriarch, narrator and compère of the show. Don’t mess with her. She convincingly holds control over everything, not least her long-suffering husband, Sayeed. If it were a comedy they would be the double act; he being her foil. The endearing Miltos Yerolemou imbues that role with dry humour and amusing asides lamenting his suffering and sublimating his love for Reem with an air akin to Tevye’s, in Fiddler on the Roof, which betrays the depth of affection he clearly has for her He too would like to be a rich man. Another Arab/Jewish parallel.
You’re allowed to laugh; Reem says so, so do it because if you don’t laugh in Palestine you cry. There’s plenty of humour. The Arabs are good at it, although the Jews probably claim it as theirs, but then that works both ways. And get over those two words. We are assured that in that part of the world Palestinians call Israelis Jews and Jews call Palestinians Arabs. I hope you are beginning to get the picture and feel the tone of this play; it's not subtle. And if you find that offensive, then this is probably not the play for you. On the other hand a dose of harsh reality might do you good. The Arab perspective might dominate but there are two Jews in the play: a man and his daughter; a family on whom tragedy falls just as it does upon the Arab family. Both sides could say with Shylock, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Indeed it is Adam, the Jew (Philipp Mogilnitskiy), who in an impassioned monologue traces the folly of all this reciprocal revenge through the ages, culminating in a vigorously physical depiction of weaponry from the stone ages to the present day. And so the hostages are taken, the disputes rage and the killing commences. But don’t worry; it’s all interspersed with dogging, which even the Israelis find irresistible. Plus, the ground makes a great firing range; people don't expect to be shot with their trousers down.
The rough-hewn set by Rajha Shakiry perfectly creates the shanty-town scene. Pieces of concrete become adaptable props and barbed wire a trap for anyone trying to clear a wall. The remaining cast move in and out of the dilapidated building conjuring up scenes and other locations on the open floor space. Luca Kamleh Chapman, Sofia Danu, Joe Haddad and Mai Weisz create a range of characters tied up in the troubles, sometimes literally. They each give strong performances and their roles provide further insights into how tragically the conflict can impact people’s lives. The design team imaginatively and significantly contribute to this with Jackie Shemesh on lighting, Elena Peña on sound and Zakk Hein on video.
In closing Reem says, “I believe my story matters and you cannot forget a story that matters”. The same is true for her story’s vehicle: two Palestinians go dogging. This play matters and is truly memorable.