two Palestinians go dogging, Royal Court review: It’s a mess and a bore but it stays with you

·2-min read
Mai Weisz, Sofia Danu, Luca Kamleh Chapman, Joe Haddad (Ali Wright)
Mai Weisz, Sofia Danu, Luca Kamleh Chapman, Joe Haddad (Ali Wright)

The title of Sami Ibrahim’s play – including that deliberately annoying lower-case wording - turns out to be the least provoking thing about it. Set in 2043 in the West Bank town of Beit-al-Qadir during a fifth intifada against Israeli incursions, it’s a Brechtian assault on the audience’s conscience, comfort and patience. The script won the Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Prize in 2019, however, and even though it’s relentlessly, wilfully infuriating, it stays with you.

The story of one couple’s loss and struggle, involving the killing of two Palestinian girls and a female Israeli soldier, is broken into 26 scenes and an epilogue. Much of it is narrated over stationary microphones with sardonic, angry mistress-of-ceremonies Reem (Hala Omran) regularly breaking off to harangue the audience. “F*** you, go home, show some respect,” she says, early on.

The style, in Omar Elerian’s teeth-grindingly remorseless production, is one of sardonic juxtaposition; the acting arch. Reem and her weary husband Sayeed (Miltos Yerolemou) do indeed go dogging in balaclavas in a perilous Red Zone, but the action is a parody of pawing. Video of their son Jawad spitting on and being beaten by a soldier inspires a TikTok dance (except, they say, TikTok has disappeared by 2043). His cousin, Tariq, caught on barbed wire, atrophies into a moaning tourist attraction.

Hala Omran is a sardonic, angry mistress-of-ceremonies (Ali Wright)
Hala Omran is a sardonic, angry mistress-of-ceremonies (Ali Wright)

Sayeed regularly supplies dictionary definitions of the words Reem uses and many scenes – including a clownishly mimed history of thousands of years of fighting – are pushed way beyond their natural length. Reem taunts Sayeed and rails against our inability to speak Arabic (“you tw*ts”). A second dogging session is attended by the dead Israeli girl’s father who explains “I want to f*** people who killed my daughter”, then claims that Jews invented hummus.

Ibrahim wants us to acknowledge Britain’s culpability in creating this endless, bloody conflict in the Middle East, and our tendency to look away. And, possibly, sheepishly to confess his own lack of engagement as a British-Palestinian. Late on, Reem gets a letter “from the playwright” where he explains that he doesn’t know what he’s doing or how to end the play. A lame and queasy narrative trick, but pretty low down on the scale of irritations here.

The show is a mess and a bore but it has also lodged in my brain like a nagging earworm. Much of the acting is of a very high standard. As well as Omran and Yerolemou, there’s good work from Sofia Danu and Mai Weisz as two of the dead girls, even when they’re acting out a weird and interminable post-mortem spirit-struggle. Luca Kamleh Chapman’s nonchalant, fourth wall-breaking swagger makes Jawad’s fate more shocking. This is one for those whose idea of a stimulating night out is to be aggressively and repeatedly challenged.

Royal Court, to June 1, royalcourttheatre.com

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