6 December 2022
12:37 (Finborough Theatre) Review
The title here refers to the time of day on July 22nd in 1946 when the King David Hotel is Jerusalem was bombed by right-wing Zionists, killing and injuring just shy of 150 people. Whilst the explosion marked a turning point in the relationship of the main characters, I thought there were more interesting moments that could’ve lent themselves better to the title.
All the same, Act I of the play centres on two brothers who are young Irish Jewish doctors: brooding charmer Paul (Alex Cartuson) and goofy joker Cecil (Eoin O’Dubhghaill). They live with their mother Minnie (Ruth Lass) who will not allow Paul to marry his girlfriend Eileen (Lisa O’Connor) because she is not Jewish (though Eileen’s father won’t stand for this marriage either on account of Paul being Jewish). There are various subplots and what not, but this is the crux of things. Eventually Minnie moves the family to London in an attempt, in part, to separate Paul and Eileen. The lads get introduced to their cousin Rina (also O’Connor) who they both have the hots for, but can’t figure out if she likes either of them.
All of this could’ve been tied up with a nice little bow pretty quickly, but the play drags on seemingly to give everyone a bit of a back story and character development, but the production doesn’t appear to benefit from it. Yes, Minnie wants a bit of happiness in her middle age. Yes, Paul is cross because he chose family obligation over love. Yes, Cecil is also cross because everyone seems to like him less than Paul. So what? It’s not good enough to be a story about family suffering, let along the suffering of Jews in the 1920-30s England and Ireland. The entire Act I feels like a never-ending prequel to the actual story to come in the next act. You feel every minute on the clock, and the only highlight of it all is brilliant dancing from O’Connor. In general, she is probably the strongest character here, happy and sad simultaneously. Cartuson and O’Dubhghaill look like they’re trying a bit too hard, and Lass is pretty wooden.
Act II switches to the brothers Green living in Israel after World War II, with Paul having gotten there by fighting for the Brits in the RAF, and Cecil being a singer who entertains the troops. Rina also turns up in Israel, having survived a concentration camp, now looking to get involved in a political movement and with either or both of the brothers. Enter a perplexingly obvious sex scene and some of the cringiest “intimate” dialogue I’ve ever heard. Seriously: EVER. The fact that Julia Pascal is both the writer and the director here might explain why this wasn’t tweaked in any way. I think I did a pretty good job not laughing out loud in what I can only assume was envisioned as a tender moment, but good grief, the language was so awkward… O’Connor’s Eastern European accent as Rina was fading in and out, which made it pretty distracting.
Lass doubled as Paul’s Zionist compatriot and was largely a non-entity in Act II. Danann McAleer rounded off the cast with an assortment of minor male roles in both acts. Everyone does a reasonable job of making the best of the text, but the play fails them in so many ways, the biggest one is that the whole thing is pointless.
Finborough prides itself on staging interesting kinds of plays: nothing about middle class angst. And yet, this is a play about two brothers with a bit of rivalry between them, then one isn’t allowed to marry the girl he loves, so he storms off in a huff, then both of them fall for the same girl who has both of them wrapped around her little finger, and it ultimately ends badly for one of them. The fact that it takes place before/after WWII or that they’re Jewish is completely irrelevant to the plot. This can be transplanted to modern day America, and very little text would have to be changed. So what’s so innovative about this play?
Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£5.
Bonus: The play is about two Jewish brothers and, later, Jews in Mandatory Palestine. Some guy tried to get into the auditorium with a full-size flag of Palestine on a 6- or 7-foot flagstaff. One has to wonder what the man was thinking… When he couldn’t take it to his seat, he tried propping it up against the set and seemed rather surprised when the ushers told them he couldn’t do that either. In the end the box office or the ushers held it for him outside the auditorium, but really… The mind boggles…