Not Quite Jerusalem – Finborough Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Paul Kember

Director: Peter Kavanagh

There was a period when “going to work on a kibbutz” was seen as the height of exoticism, the thought of a working holiday in the sunshine offering the promise of sex and a suntan in exchange for a little light labour.

But for four Brits in Paul Kember’s play, which first debuted at the Royal Court in 1980, reality soon hits home. The volunteer work is hard, the compound is secure, and the other ‘kibbutzniks’ are intolerant of the Brits’ lazy attitudes.

Thus the scene is set for what starts out as a warm comedy about Brits abroad, Kember creating four characters whose broad characterisations are instantly recognisable: the boorish Northerner, the hippy-dippy artist, the perpetually swearing Essex lad, the quiet Cambridge student.

It is the last of these, Ryan Whittle’s Mike, who gets the lion’s share of the script’s attention. Initially starting out as yet another idle holidayer, Whittle’s character deepens as he strikes up a relationship with Ailsa Joy’s Gila, a no-nonsense Israeli whose blunt frankness is the play’s greatest joy.

The relationship between Mike and Gila, which provides the first act’s wittiest scenes, also proves to be the dramatic anchor for the second as Mike struggles with the reasons he left Britain and Gila strives for a little more permanence. It allows for the broader characterisations, particularly those of Joe McArdle’s Dave and Ronnie Yorke’s Pete, to remain largely in the realm of caricature and yet still feel grounded.

A rumbling undercurrent throughout is the impending “volunteers’ day”, when each of the teams from around the globe are due to perform an act that symbolises their home country. Offstage, some Swedish volunteers rehearse a beautiful choral work; they are shouted down by McArdle with an offensive song.

That, and the boys’ eventual stage presentation that ends in McArdle and Yorke mooning the audience, symbolises the particularly British attitude to national pride; the rowdy, beer-swilling lad who wraps himself in the Union Jack, but has no emotional connection with his home country, and who lashes out at those who do.

Elsewhere, Russell Bentley as the unflappable Ami and Miranda Braun as Carrie, the artist who finds kibbutz life brings her out of her shell, do sterling work. But in this otherwise slight comedy-drama, it is Joy’s Gila, and the deadpan earnestness of her black humour, which stick in the memory.

Continues until 28 March 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Slight kibbutz-based comedy

The Reviews Hub - London

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