In Spitting Distance

Taher Najib
Rukab Project
The Pit, Barbican

Production photo

2008 is the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) which saw the eviction of a million Palestinians from their homes, massacres and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages.

It is not inappropriate, therefore, that an institution such as the Barbican should mark this by holding a Palestine Film Festival, with special events including a presentation of Rukab Project's play In Spitting Distance.

The play has no immediate connection with the Nakba but is a moving and often funny story covering six months or so in the life of a Palestinian actor who finds his peace of mind challenged by the routine of playing out a role in the theatre whilst the real "tragedy is on the street", illustrating the contradiction between the intentions of the Oslo Accords and the reality in which people have to live.

He leaves Ramallah "in defence of [his] free will" and finds fun and love in Paris until a part in a play about "colonialism" strikes a note and entices him home. And there's the rub: he is a Palestinian who has an Israeli passport and is travelling to Tel Aviv on the first anniversary of 9/11.

The piece was penned by one of the trio who make up the collective Rukab Project, Taher Najib; he wrote In Spitting Distance whilst in the UK taking part in the Royal Court's International Residency for Emerging Playwrights, based on his own experiences in similar circumstances.

It is without doubt a thought-provoking piece and only the truly heartless cannot feel for the tragedy and injustices which have to be tolerated on a daily basis by those who live with conflict, irrespective of where they call home.

But I cannot let the emotion of piece veil the fact that this play ultimately lacks any incisive conclusion, and if there was closure for the protagonist it was lost in the blinking of an eye - literally as the surtitles flashed past.

The other two parts of the Rukab Project triumvirate are director Ofira Henig and actor, Khalifa Natour.

Henig, held to be one of Israel's leading theatre directors, does a good job of keeping Natour moving around the high-contrast, starkly lit stage, and pulling out from the shadows the dark comedy that is held within the pacily delivered script.

Award-winning Khalifa Natour delivers the words with a real depth of feeling, to the extent that the well-written - if sprightly changing - surtitles come alive with the emotion behind them. As he presents himself at security in Paris airport I could imagine the embarrassment as the security officer displays acts of "circus clowning" such is his panic when faced with the contraposition of a Palestinian with an Israeli passport!

In his careful hands, Natour balances the disturbing with the ludicrous achieving a performance that is both striking and engaging. His subtle portrayal outweighs any criticism of the script and makes this a show worth a visit.

"In Spitting Distance" is performed in Arabic with English surtitles. It runs until Saturday 17 May 2008. The running time is 60 minutes with no interval.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti