London’s smallest theatre packs some of the capital’s biggest theatrical punches. This is certainly true of the Finborough Theatre’s current production of Paul Kember’s Not Quite Jerusalem.
The acting is first class, and although the play does at times show its age, it is still very thought-provoking.
Time Out once called the Finborough “the most influential fringe theatre in the world,” and it certainly has an impeccable record of fringe awards.
An evening at this tiny, 50 seat, theatre is a unique experience, one where you almost feel on stage yourself. An unthinking neighbour used a prop on stage to rest his drink on. At one dramatic moment one of the leading ladies fell at my feet, or should I say “on” my feet.
Founded in 1980, the Finborough’s unique pledge is to present work that has not been seen anywhere in London in the last 25 years. Not Quite Jerusalem fits that bill having first been shown at The Royal Court theatre in 1980 when it took audiences by storm, and was a huge success.
The story concerns four assorted Brits (three men and one woman) thrown together as volunteers on an Israeli Kibbutz. These were tight-knit rural communities, established to farm the land and run on egalitarian/socialist principles.
Following the 1967 war, there was a perception in the West of a newly founded small state, Israel, being bullied by her neighbours.
This, coupled with the economic crises of the 1970s led to nearly 12,000 western volunteers arriving annually to “put their hand to the tiller.”
Many of these young people were no doubt “looking for themselves.”
Mike played by Ryan Whittle is a Cambridge drop out, who does seem to have the right motivations but can’t help trying to teach the natives how to speak English properly.
He is the object of affection for young Carrie, a brilliant piece of characterization by Miranda Braun, a feckless lost child, just about keeping it together.
The last two characters Dave (Joe McArdle) and Pete (Ronnie Yorke) are pure Little Englanders who hate everything foreign (the food, the climate, and the people).
I am sure the real volunteers were a little more outward looking and curious than the characters we have here. Ami and Gila, outstanding performances by Russell Bentley and Alisa Joy, represent the Israeli Kibbutzniks.
Author Paul Kember is an actor and the writing in consequence is a masterclass for actors.
Mike delivers a soliloquy debunking the romantic patriotism of Rupert Brooke’s poetry and pleads eloquently for mercy when the hapless Dave and Pete shock the Kibbutz with a draw dropping show in their union boxers.
His speech arguing they are themselves victims of “the system” is a timeless piece of populism that would not be out of place on the lips of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn.
But this doesn’t stop this work being rooted firmly it its time. The irony of its revival now is that it demonstrates how completely wrong its message was.
This is a story born of the 1970s and what it meant in Britain and in Israel (hence the title).
It was the life of the Kibbutz that was doomed.
The 1980s saw the old Kibbutz system run into severe economic crisis.
The growing Israeli-Palestinian conflicts led many western countries to review their view of Israel, and foreign volunteers dropped to just 100 by 2001.
By contrast – 1980 was just about the nadir of the UK economy which went on to be the strongest in Europe by the 1990s.
Come and see this piece for the joy of this small theatre, and because it gets just about everything wrong.
Not Quite Jerusalem is at the Finborough Theatre until March 28.
Box Office 01223 357 851.