The Jasmine Road
Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh
The Jasmine Road is the first play by poet Ghazi Hussein, whose life story is strongly echoed by the play's poet, Adham (Nabil Shaban).
As it opens, Adham has just received notice that, while he has been granted indefinite leave to stay in Britain as a refugee, his benefits have been cut off - a state of affairs which leads him meet the young, idealistic Rowan (Marnie Baxter).
Realizing from his paperwork that Adham is a Palestinian refugee, Rowan coaxes from the surly older man the details of his life back in Rafah, which she hopes to use to prepare herself for her own upcoming sojourn to Gaza. Upon her return, however, Rowan realizes that the horrors she witnessed make it impossible for her to settle back into her old life, and she returns to Palestine to continue her work with the International Solidarity Movement. There, like the factual young woman upon whom she is based, Rowan meets with an untimely death resulting from her commitment to her ideals.
Several times near the opening of the play, Hussein's characters debate the nature of truth and its depiction, concluding repeatedly that the media offers only one side of the arguments taking place in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Hussein's own experiences speak to the brutality one human being is capable of inflicting on another, making him exquisitely qualified for the position of offering the view which this play exhibits, but, in a play filled with indictments of hypocrisy, it stands out that this work exhibits the same style of one-sided arguments that cause his characters so much grief.
This aside, the play is beautifully written, with the precision of Hussein's poetry leaving very little in need of being done by the actors to convey the characters' emotions, thought processes, actions, and experiences.
This is not to say that the actors don't then take their material and make it even more compelling. Both Baxter and Shaban play their parts well, although pre-Palestine Rowan is a bit difficult to believe. While Baxter improves dramatically when Rowan returns from the city of Rafah in a state of moral outrage it is difficult to forget the false ring of her first few scenes. Shaban, on the other hand, gives a performance that rises and falls with each new facet discovered about Adham's life. The audience was spellbound by Shaban's depiction of Adham's pain and strength.
The theatre itself is small, the intimate setting enabling the audience to see everything that happens on stage. Designer Alison Irwin and lighting designer Phil Haldane have taken advantage of this, constructing a simple, spare set that utilizes long, sweeping sheets of fabric upon which Arabic characters have been painted and varied levels for presentation of the play's action, and then illuminating it in such a way that the simplicity of the materials is misleading because it becomes so easy to imagine each of the very different settings for the play's scenes.
"The Jasmine Road" will be playing at the Theatre Workshop, 34 Hanover Place, until 25th October.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody