Crossing Jerusalem claims to deliver an engaging take on Israeli politics, but the result is a largely unsuccessful attempt to deliver an inherently problematic script. Julia Pascal writes and directs this story about an unlikeable Israeli family, who, for reasons that are unclear, air their issues with one another over a 24-hour period during the last intifada. There is also a side plot, which involves two Arab brothers, who are basically good guys. Pascal takes a heavy-handed approach to complex politics, creating unrealistically two-dimensional characters.
The play opened with some interesting use of choreography; the cast dance to Israeli rap, and as they swap partners they each adopt a different way of dancing with one another, suggesting the unique differences in each of these relationships. However, this was a brief moment of subtlety, of which in the remaining two and a half hours, there were few and far between.
The first words, shouted by Alistair Toovey, failed to deliver their full impact. This set the tone for the shouting that was to characterise the rest of the play (which could potentially be re-dubbed ‘Cross in Jerusalem’?) Varda, played by Trudy Weiss, was the biggest culprit of this. This character was clearly meant to be the neurotic Jewish mother. However, Varda’s lack of redeeming qualities built her into a stereotype, with lines that were so set-up that she bordered on stage-villain.
Varda’s partner Sergei, played by Chris Spyrides, was equally undeveloped. We find out that he lost a son in Afghanistan, a reminder that is never matched with a sense of the emotional impact it had on him. His repeated catch phrase ‘sorry about that’ seemed to play no other role than to grate on the ears. In the final scene of family crisis, Varda and Sergei take centre stage, while Varda’s daughter Lee and daughter-in-law Yael remaining implausibly silent onlookers. This felt both unrealistic and wearisome; as of all the characters, Varda and Sergei were the most difficult to connect with.
The were problems abound in Pascal’s script. The clearest of which was that the erupting of issues was not believable, largely due to a lack of tension. We are flung into a familial life, but the strains on relationships were laid on thick, not organically revealed. To add to this issue, the stakes were raised, only to be ignored. Sergei had to urgently get a table for his family in the restaurant which they have crossed Jerusalem to visit, and who are waiting in the car, because otherwise, he distastefully jokes, his wife will ‘”have a stroke”. He then promptly forgets about them and sits down to have some vodka and a cigar.
The problems with script and direction were played out in the frustrating lack of attention to detail throughout the performance. On two occasions, characters simply ended phone conversations mid-way through, then continued again, allowing us to lose all belief in the existence of the person on the other end of the line. Even the wine glasses in the restaurant were different sizes. This repeated lack of attention to detail was another barrier to engagement with the situations presented.
There was some talent in this production, particularly Louisa Clein who played Lee, and Andy Lucas as Sammy, but the cast struggled to provide believable performances, as neither script nor direction aided them in finding plausible points of focus. A heightened attention to Pascal’s words meant a sacrifice of commitment to action. This piece needs an outside eye on both the script and direction before it can reach its full potential.
Crossing Jerusalem is playing at Park Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website. Photo by Mia Hawk.