Theatre review: Crossing Jerusalem at Park Theatre

CJ Waleed Elgadi. Picture: Mia Hawk

CJ Waleed Elgadi. Picture: Mia Hawk - Credit: Archant

This tale of a Jewish family’s emotional encounters in Jerusalem features some passionate performances, but offers little new insight into the Arab/Jewish conflict, says David Winskill

Crossing Jerusalem is an intriguing idea for a play. It takes a look at a Jewish family, their lives, loves and concerns and sees what happens when they collide with Palestinians and Christian Arabs in the city they share.

The action takes place over a single day in 2002 during the Second Intifada. We meet Yael as she celebrates her 30th birthday with Gideon, a soldier preparing to return to the Occupied Territories the next day. She wants a second child, but he doesn’t.

We are introduced to his promiscuous sister, their over-emotional and domineering mother and their step dad, the Russian Sergei (played with much humour and forbearance by Chris Spyrides).

They decide to “cross Jerusalem” to celebrate the birthday as a family in a restaurant run by Sammy, a Christian Arab with a Palestinian waiter Yusuf (excellently portrayed by Waleed Elgadi) whose younger brother, played with passion by Alistair Toovey, is a street fighter. Crossing Jerusalem is a potentially dangerous journey.

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Writer and Director Julia Pascal carefully intertwines the interactions on the day with several back stories that illustrate long term grievances and tensions that are never far from the surface of this ancient city.

But the play just doesn’t fire and it doesn’t deliver. My knowledge of the Arab/Jewish conflict is not deep, but after two and a half hours I walked away with no new insights or knowledge.

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The cast delivered engaged and passionate performances, but the dialogue was so stilted and clunky that you felt they were compensating for a poor script. Valiant attempts were made to inject a few laughs amid the clichés but this was not the place for cosy Jewish mamma stereotypes.

There were signs of the sort of quality that could have been delivered in the excellent, soul-baring exchanges between Yeal (Adi Lerer) and Gideon (David Ricardo-Pearce).

But a fantastic opportunity was missed to use the Arab Christian restaurateur as a sort of fair-trader to examine the conflict – instead he was drawn as a semi-comic cipher with little to say.

Strangely, a message might have been found in long-term collaborator and designer Claire Lyth’s excellent set. The curtains of Yael’s apartment bore an ancient “meander pattern” motif, commonly found in Roman ruins and on pottery. Perhaps a reminder of the antiquity of the conflict?

Rating: 2/5 stars

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