Four For Jericho

Sun 30th October 2011

reviews

Sapphire Elisha

at 20:21 on 30th Oct 2011

1agrees

2disagrees

If you’re looking for a bit of slapstick with an exotic twist and a good dose of racial fun-poking, then this play will not fail to deliver. But if you’re hoping for an artistic representation of serious social and political issues, then be prepared to be disappointed, if not offended. For a play that has received a majority of 4* ratings following its recent success in Edinburgh, Four For Jericho is surprisingly superficial and tends to prefer humour over serious reflection upon continuous human struggles.

Comedy is not the first word that springs to mind when contemplating the ever tense relationship between Israel and Palestine, yet comedy is the bedrock of this politically edgy and occasionally risqué piece of theatre, by playwright Richard Fredman. The focus of the play is the meetings and misadventures of six named characters (played by four actors, hence the title) and their doomed taxi journey to Jericho. Largely preying upon ethnic stereotypes, we are introduced first to Michael, a Christian Sunday school teacher from England, who is filled with adoration for Israel and its ‘incredible people’ and is heading to Jericho not only to get away from his wife, but to make an inspiring film for the children back home. By stark and often uncomfortable contrast there is Fouad, an Arab peasant goat farmer, who amongst many other humiliations has to witness his family home being bulldozed by Israelis. Positioned in between these two characters is Izzy, a beautiful, young Jewish activist campaigning for Arab rights and on the hunt for an anthropology scholar who is being detained by the Israeli government. This actress in particular, Claire Cordier, delivers an inspiring performance with great stage presence and a rich, mellifluous voice.

For the whole of its one hour running time, Four For Jericho forces us to check our conceptions surrounding religion and ethnicity, as the varied characters alternate religious clothing to disguise their true identities to suit the political environment, i.e. Muslim Fouad dons a baseball cap in a Jewish settler’s home, who in turn wears hijab while travelling through Arab territory, and for most of the play philosemitic Michael wears both a tallit and kippah alongside a sizeable wooden crucifix. Such is the melee, the play offers not so much a sense of the respective sensitivities and struggles of individuals in the Holy Land, as much as a general atmosphere of comedic chaos, topped with Middle Eastern clichés of aggressive bartering, exotic (pre-recorded) music, colourful fabrics and car sharing to the extreme.

Despite the frequent costume changes and a cast of only four, there is no internal overlap between the different characters. Each represents one aspect of Israeli-Palestinian life, with some offering a more sympathetic perspective than others. For example, it is very difficult not to pity the Arab farmer, kneeling in dirt and being ordered around at gunpoint by a Jewish settler. Fouad is in fact played very convincingly by an Israeli Jewish actor, Josh Becker, who admitted after the performance that he did initially have concerns that the play would offend some audience members due to its blasphemous language and negative representation of Jewish Israelis: [Fouad to Michael] ‘A proper settler would have a machine gun right in front of me while I am working,’ whilst on his knees in the dirt, followed by ‘the Koran is a book of shit! Make me say it!’ And there are several more severe comments, which are likely to leave one feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Overall, the play strives to offer a lighter interpretation of a very unfunny political situation with the idea of laughter being the tonic of hardship, as roughly expressed by the play’s director, Patrick Morris. A cut and dried evaluation of the play is impossible - there are too many perspectives to consider and too many conflicting emotions to straddle. Suffice to say that the actors were lively and responsive, as is to be expected in a professional cast, bringing imagination and colour to a set comprised of only four breeze blocks and a rug. The accompanying music was perfectly evocative, and although at times there was a tendency to over act, including a shouting match lasting what felt like five whole minutes and a tiresome emphasis of Michael's naive Christian ideals, the plot was well paced and succinct (save the corny and repeated chorus ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’), making every necessary socio-political point, while taking the audience on a very bumpy one-way taxi ride to Jericho.

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Comments

Richard Purkiss; 31st Oct 2011; 15:06:07

Humour has long been an effective device for illustrating the varying perspectives of unfunny political situations. The advertising warned that the production “may cause inappropriate laughter at the absurdities and tragedies of today's Promised Land”, and that the play is “a provocative tale which entertains as much as it challenges”. For me it delivered what was promised. To attend and expect simply “an artistic representation of serious social and political issues” is perhaps missing the point.

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