Shireen Abu Akleh, celebrated observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Al Jazeera correspondent was recently shot and killed in Jenin in the West Bank. The 51-year-old reported on every flashpoint in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem over three decades.
As the Arab world reeled from her death, accusing Israeli forces of wilful assassination, her funeral became an explosive scene as Israeli officers beat mourners while they carried her casket. The circumstances around Abu Akleh death are so inflammatory, emotional and horrific that it seemed sure to ignite new grievance and escalate the conflict.
In fact, after 3 days, it’s fallen off the news agenda. There are other wars to focus on. Fresh, shiny battles that aren’t as complex and divisive as the atrocities unfolding in the occupied West Bank. It’s this concept of ‘conflict fatigue’ and battle over the narrative that’s at the core of Sami Ibrahim’s ‘two Palestinians go dogging’.
It won the Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award in 2019 and this show is its premiere. The title alone deserves a trophy; it caught my eye, piqued interest, and ultimately got me through the door. Set in 2043, on the eve of the Fifth Intifada, Ibrahim’s play is a Molotov cocktail of post-modern wit, agit-prop stand up and reflection on identity and the vagaries of chronicling the truth.
Hala Omran is spellbinding as Reem, Palestinian mother, activist, wife, and enthusiastic fan of anonymous sex. If you were pondering joining a revolution, she’d talk you into it. It’s her passion, fury and righteousness that drives the play, but she’s supported by an equally dazzlingly cast.
Her son, Jawad is played by Luca Kamleh Chapman in his theatrical debut. He chews up that stage at every opportunity, proving a deft, charming comic and a balletic mover. Definitely one to watch.
Ibrahim’s text fully addresses the challenge of creating fiction to explore such a thorny topic with real life consequences.
“But in the end, none of this is real, none of this is anything, and we’ll simply move on”.
‘two Palestinians go dogging’ may not be everyone’s choice of entertainment, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Perhaps more so. It’s provocative, depressing, satirical and challenging. The laughs are dry, ironic and seen through a veil of blood and tears.
As the world worries about wars where heroes and villains are defined with choppier clarity, there’s an urgent need for any art that forces us to focus on murkier conflicts, riddled with blurred lines, and a host of proxy players. It’s a tall order and a thankless task, but that’s exactly the arena that theatre should be stepping into. Escapist fantasy may be what we want, but it’s not necessarily what we need.
Playing until 1stJune, https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/twopalestinians/
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 17th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★