Review: Welcome To Ramallah

By John Nathan, October 3, 2008

Arcola Theatre, London E8

Rather like the idealistic do-gooder in her latest offering, Sonja Linden has supported several worthwhile causes, among them victims of the Rwandan genocide, about whom she wrote a fine play. But sometimes there is a dramatic price to be paid when a playwright's politics is so conspicuously present on stage.

Linden has teamed up with co-writer Adah Kay who, like the play's heroine Mara (Shuna Snow), is the daughter of a "staunchly Zionist" family who shifted allegiances and lived and worked with Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The play is set in Mara's apartment in the city's international zone. To reach it, visiting older sister Natasha (Lolly Susi) has for the first time braved Israeli checkpoints. She wants to persuade Mara to return to the kibbutz of their childhood to bury the ashes of their father.

We meet the reason for Mara's resistance with the arrival of her two other guests - her Palestinian neighbour Daoud (Christopher Simon) and his uncle Salim (John Moraitis), who remembers being expelled from his family's village before it was turned into Mara and Natasha's kibbutz. This set-up may sound over-tidy, but Sue Lefton's assured production does not feel contrived.

Linden and Kay seem to be motivated by a sense of injustice and Jewish guilt for the Palestinian victims of Israel's establishment. Which is as good a reason as any to write a play. But the authors have not fully trusted their subject to create its own drama.

While for the most part their Palestinian characters are portrayed as noble victims, the pro-Israel Natasha comes across as an unforgivably insensitive snob who makes rude comments about the size of Palestinian families.

It is a shame, because in a play that has serious things to say about the legacy of Israel's founding, it is not so much Natasha's prejudices that are obvious, but the authors'. It is the trap into which many politically motivated dramatists fall. (Tel: 020 7503 1646)

Last updated: 2:44pm, October 6 2008