New End Theatre Beyond
The Carriageworks, Leeds
New End Theatre Beyond, a relaunched incarnation of a long-standing but recently defunct London-based fringe theatre, begins its new phase in Leeds with a month's run of this new play by Pat Rowe.
Sadly, it's an inauspicious debut. Rowe's record as a writer so far looks promising, but this is an underdeveloped piece, with little to commend it save an unusual historical setting and a number of solid performances.
That setting, the British Mandate in Jerusalem's King David Hotel, at the time of its bombing around the mid-1940s, seems ripe for exploration. The playwright has clearly carried out in-depth research, and carries an evident passion for the time and location of the play. But the piece as it stands struggles to bring this environment to life, presenting this research in a straightforward, under-processed manner and making its characters at times mere unconvincing mouthpieces for the arguments of the time.
Jenny Leveton, as young Jewish waitress / activist Ziva, is the performer who copes best with the sometimes awkward dialogue. She captures a dangerous beauty which makes it clear why Joel Parry's under-written officer Thomas Wilson would fall for her. But their story develops in far too pat a manner, and at certain crucial moments we lose a sense of location or urgency—most criminally a scene in which Leveton is forced to wait on stage as Parry laboriously dials up his superior officer, ostensibly to turn her in for carrying out the bombing at the centre of the play. Why Ziva would not merely run away is not made sufficiently clear by either script or staging, though Leveton does her best to convey trapped panic during this clumsy moment.
Other pieces of stagecraft are similarly stilted and illogical. The opening, cutting between the desk of the aforementioned commanding officer Sir Henry Gordon (played, with a straight bat and safe pair of hands, by Peter Alexander) and the initial encounters between Ziva and Wilson, does little to set up a sense of danger or of place. There are several encounters between Gordon and his fretting chief of railways Albert Corby (a nervy, unconvincing Michael Forrest) in which no clear reason is given for the characters' continuing dialogue.
Such tenuous motivations suggest that the play has been rushed onto the stage—a few rewrites, and a rethink of the structure, would doubtless help in bringing out the fascinating story buried beneath a currently clumsy piece.
Reviewer: Mark Smith