These are some of the facts. In 1992, an American archaeologist called Albert Glock was shot and killed in Bir Zeit, on the West Bank. Reports say he was killed by an Israeli weapon used by a unidentified masked gunman who escaped using a car with Israeli number plates. Theories surrounding the case include plots by Hamas cells and Israeli agents.
This UK debut by Canadian playwright Arthur Milner — a name that is difficult to introduce without evoking his near namesake Arthur Miller — is partly inspired by this story, but also by the fact that Milner’s Holocaust survivor father was a follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of right-wing revisionist Zionism.
Milner’s critical opinions of Israel must be seen in the context of his father’s devoted support for the country.
His exploration of the killing concentrates the facts of the case — and many more that surround the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — within a claustrophobic Israeli interrogation cell in the West Bank. It is in this convincingly bland space, terrifically well realised by designer Georgia Lowe, that Palestinian investigating officer Khalid Yassin (Philip Arditti) joins forces with his Israeli counterpart Yossi HaCohen (Michael Feast). Here they grill their prime suspect, Danny Rakoff (Paul Rattray), an American-born settler.
For motive, Khalid’s case against the settler is that the dead archeologist’s work was undermining Jewish biblical claims to the land (which is what some people said of Glock). And for drama, Milner gives his Israeli policeman, Yossi — who describes himself as a third-generation Jewish atheist — a deep antipathy towards settlers. This turns into rage when Danny displays disdain for Yossi’s Palestinian colleague.
Let us take at face value that such a relationship between the policemen is possible, or desirable even — not hard if you, like me, are a sucker for clichéd buddy stories in which mismatched cops collaborate on a common cause. The transition from mutual suspicion to mutual respect invariably makes me go all gooey inside.
To his credit, Milner undermines the convention by powerfully revealing that Khalid resents Israelis such as Yossi — who comes from the kind of Zionist stock that established Israel — more than he does militant settlers such as Danny and their biblical claim to Palestinian land. Yet, in dramatic terms, Milner loads the dice too heavily in favour of the argument I suspect he most favours.
While Khalid is depicted as the embodiment of civilised calm, Yossi is philistine and aggressive, even to the point of being so ignorant he does not know that Muslims and Jews share biblical prophets.
While Yossi’s antipathy towards settlers is explained, his violent hatred feels utterly artificial. It does not help that while Arditti’s Arab accent is very convincing (the Jewish actor honed it while playing Saddam Hussain’s son Uday in the TV series House of Saddam), Feast opts for an John Wayne-ish American rather than an Israeli accent.
Director Caitlin McLeod, who paces the play’s uninterrupted 90 minutes with great skill, would surely been far better off having Yossi speak with an English if not Israeli accent, especially with a character who is so sceptical of American values. It would have been a lot less distracting too.
So — and apologies for this cheap crack — while Milner’s play gets close to being associated with a top drama, rather like his name, it does not quite get there. (www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk)