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DramaLondonReview

12:37 – Finborough Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer and Director: Julia Pascal

On July 22, 1946, at the time of 12:37, a bomb planet by Zionist underground organisation the Irgun detonated in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the site of the headquarters of the British authorities presiding in what was then Mandatory Palestine.

The attack was but one domino in the progression towards the state of Israel. As such, there is much to be said for appraising the suitability of the attack, how life in the region may have motivated the Irgun, and whether the sociopolitical ramifications were worth the loss of life. Instead, writer/director Julia Pascal’s 12:37 extends her sights both temporally and geographically, concentrating her story on Jewish-Irish brothers Paul (Alex Cartuson) and Cecil Green (Eoin O’Dubhghaill).

Starting in Dublin in 1935, the brothers’ sense of nationalism plays out against a backdrop of more mundane family matters, as the boy’s mother (Ruth Lass) objects to Paul’s Catholic girlfriend. Some of the parallels Pascal lays at our feet are obvious: mistrust and division with deeply entrenched views that have a faith-based alignment, the sense of one’s homeland not being truly free of rule from an external force.

But for all the commonalities, as the story sprawls through a family move to East End London – where the brothers encounter not only Mosley’s blackshirts but a beguiling cabaret singer, Rina (Lisa O’Connor) – and on to post-war Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, just what story Pascal wants to focus on becomes lost. A sense of a love triangle between Rina and the two brothers, supposedly revived when she reunites with them ten years after their first meeting, never quite lands. More compelling is the divergence of the siblings’ viewpoints as they grow up and gain more independence from one another.

The events of the attack, the confusion and mistakes, the uncertainty as to whether warnings were issued or just ignored, provide a sense of tension and pace that Pascal’s narrative lacks elsewhere. And it is a credit to Cartuson and O’Dubhghaill that the play’s way into understanding the events via two likeable, principled brothers nearly works.

The use of music of both Irish and Jewish origin throughout provides an evocative aural backdrop, while Liberty Monroe’s sparse design allows the Finborough’s limited space to be used to maximum effect. Ultimately, though, this is a play that fails to navigate us through the sprawling epic and, as such, fails to deliver on illuminating us about those events in 1946 and their place in history.

Continues until 21 December 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Sprawling epic

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