Spies-and-sex tale almost seduces
New Diorama Theatre, London NW1
Pascal imagines a Mossad mission to entrap a Palestinian terrorist
With just two actors and an almost bare stage, Israeli director Orly Rabinyan's production of Julia Pascal's latest play gets to grips with the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with rare clarity.
Rather than take on the whole of Israeli and Palestinian history, Pascal focuses on one notorious event out of which the positions of both sides get a decent airing. Set a decade after the massacre of
11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Honeypot imagines how one of the Palestinians responsible may have been targeted by Israel's intelligence service, Mossad. The play's central character, however, is a Swede called Susanne - played here with great commitment by Jessica Claire - who mysteriously offers herself as an agent to Mossad intelligence officer Koby (Paul Herzberg).
Although the actual mission undertaken by Susanne is fictional, Pascal has said that the inspiration for her unlikely heroine was a real-life Swedish woman who worked for Mossad as a "honeytrap" by seducing Arab terrorists and then killing them as they slept.
Anchored by perfectly accented performances, the two-hander is particularly strong in the way it develops the relationship between the earnest Susanne and her sceptical Mossad controller. The play's first act is constructed mainly out of a series of interviews that turn into training sessions, with Koby digging away at Susanne's personal history until he is not only convinced that she has the mental strength to carry out her mission - the assassination of the man who planned the Munich attack - but that her motives for putting her life at risk for a country she barely knows make psychological sense too.
Yet, although it eventually makes sense to him, it didn't quite for me. There is the sense that the play has got under the skin of Mossad's induction process more than it has that of its heroine. And even when Koby manages to expose Susanne's hidden motivation, not all the questions are answered. Claire is left to fill the gaps by revealing the emotional fragility of a woman who is haunted by her father's past.
Rabinyan injects pace into the evening - never easy with a two-hander - although more could have been done to wring tension out of a play that feels as is if it wants to be a thriller more than its author and director do.
But where Honeypot works terrifically well is with the state of mind of the warring Semites. When Koby tells the blonde Susanne that she is "what every Arab and Jewish man wants", there is something in that generalisation that reveals the mores of the men fighting the Middle-East war.
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