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Honeypot

Julia Pascal
Pascal Theatre Company
New Diorama Theatre
(2011)

Honeypot publicity image

While, like almost everyone, I have an instinct to hit back if I am attacked I have never understood cold-blooded vengeance, which is what, in some ways, this play is about.

"An eye for an eye," says the Hebrew Bible but, though some of the patriarchal figures took that literally, much of later rabbinical interpretation has seen it not as a call for reciprocal mutilation but as meaning let the punishment fit the crime. Indeed, that other phrase "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord" is not a call to avenge but an instruction to leave that to God.

I don't know how Israel's then President Golda Meir saw things when, following the murder of eleven Israeli athletes by members of a group of Palestinian activists at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, she set up Operation Wrath of God to hunt down and assassinate the perpetrators, though one of her former top intelligence officials has said that the aim was not so much revenge as to frighten other Palestinian activists.

Julia Pascal's Honeypot takes us into the heart of Israel's Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, or Mossad for short, an organisation set up by the Israeli government, according to its own website, "to collect information, analyze intelligence, and perform special covert operations beyond its borders". Today that website is one channel by which it recruits its members. I don't know how people joined them in the 1970s but Pascal's character Susanne clearly did.

The character and the play were inspired by a real Mossad agent, a tall, blonde Swedish woman, looking like an almost stereotypical 'shiksa,' whom Pascal knew and who, it was whispered, had been used by Mossad as a 'honeypot' to seduce and then kill terrorists. In the first part of the play we see Susanne being interviewed by Mossad as their officer Koby tries to make her reveal her true self and she to convince him of her dedication and suitability and also to learn her new identity as Mia. In the second half we see her at work as Mia, meeting and developing a relationship with former terrorist Joe.

It is a fascinating glimpse of a world one knows exists but is rarely reported. At times it is a little confusing and Pascal keeps us waiting far too long before giving any indication of Susanne's real motives for wanting to take on this work, but you are held by accomplished performers. Jessica Claire is an obsessed Susanne, more role-playing, it seems, as mother talking to her husband and little daughter than in the world of espionage. Paul Herzberg, playing both the men, is dogged as Koby but likeable. Somehow he suggests a regular family man when out of the office but he is driven and you know private life comes second. He makes Palestinian Joe attractive and vulnerable, with just a glimpse of the lonely hunted man. It is difficult to see him as a killer, or at least the brains behind the killings, for he engages such sympathy, but he must once have been driven as Susanne has become.

With Daniel Hunt's sound design suggesting locations from airports to a seat at the opera and Claire Lyth's simple minimalist design with an effective use of gauzes, this is a production in which the quality of the direction lies in that it never becomes noticeable - except for one brief section when Susanne repeatedly takes a sweater off and on, a representation of successive days of training and preparation perhaps, though it could be metaphorical: deciding whether she can go through with this, the conflict between family and the work - or even the dressing and undressing of repetitive seductions and assassinations, though all of the later were afterthoughts rather than an immediate interpretation.

There is a plot twist that looks like turning into a sentimental cop-out but concludes with bitter reality. This isn't a play that takes sides - it is indicting both of them.

"Honeypot" runs at the New Diorama theatre until 30th October 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton