by Ben Brown.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 20 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 4 March (+ post-show discussion).
Runs 2hr 40 min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 February.
Determination wins through in debate on a Jewish homeland.
Plays can be interesting for what they say or the way they say it. Ben Brown’s story of the role Britain played during the First World War in setting-up, through the Balfour Declaration, a land for the Jews, scores strongly on the first. And while it has neither a Shavian sparkle in debate nor any structural resonance with the subject-matter, it tells its story efficiently.
Arthur Koestler, quoted in the programme, summed-up the Declaration as one nation solemnly promising another the country of a third. And Brown marginalises the Palestinian voice, as does Alan Strachan’s immaculately-engineered production. Sam Dowson’s design eventuallly removes the carpet-map of the Middle East, upon which British politicians have trodden and placed their furniture, to reveal Arabian-patterned tiles. But the sole Palestinian is a servant used to hold a peeled tangerine skin.
The Jewish voice is contrastingly complex. Zionist campaigner Chaim Weizmann finds sympathy from Cabinet Minister Herbert Samuel, whose eventual ringing endorsement of “Next year in Jerusalem” as summation of Jewish sufferings over the centuries contrasts the fears of Edwin Montagu. For him being Jewish is a matter of religion (which doesn’t matter much to him) not statehood; he fears a Jewish homeland would damage Jews in other lands.
But Montagu is out of favour, largely for marrying Venetia Stanley, whom Prime Minister Herbert Asquith loves less platonically than he allows himself to think. The picture of a Prime Minister writing love letters during Cabinet meetings in the middle of a World War is a memorable image from the play.
Asquith is a vacuum at the heart of power, while the late entrance of Max Beaverbrook indicates where power could flow. The press-baron doesn’t have to press himself too hard on Venetia, as Montagu stays tactfully out of the way for someone who could re-start his Cabinet career.
A strong Orange Tree cast do well by a play which turned out by chance the first of two I saw in one day that might have found more scope on screen than stage. But, as stage it is, Brown has crafted his material competently and clearly.
Chaim Weizmann: Jonathan Tafler.
Herbert Samuel: Richard Clothier.
Venetia Stanley: Miranda Colchester.
Herbert Asquith: Christopher Ravenscroft.
Edwin Montagu: Nicholas Asbury.
Arthur Balfour: Oliver Ford Davies.
Rabbi Joseph/Lord Curzon/Abdullah: Sam Dastor.
David Lloyd George: Patrick Brennan.
Alfred Milner: Michael Sheldon.
Max Beaverbrook: Colin Stinton.
Little Girl: Olive Jamieson Bown/Elizabeth Cullen/Holly McClelland/ Lucia Luing Turnbull/Natalia Bodington.
Director: Alan Strachan.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Music: Matthew Strachan.
Assistant director: Lora Davies.