The Beloved

Amir Nizar Zuabi
ShiberHur
Bush

Rivka Neumann and Mahram J Khoury Credit: Keith Pattinson
Makram J Khoury, Taher Najib and Samaa Wakeem Credit: Keith Pattinson
Sivan Sasson and Rami Heuberger Credit: Keith Pattinson

Palestinian writer and director Amir Nizar Zuabi is already well known to London audiences for his previous work seen at the Young Vic, which includes most recently I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother and In the Penal Colony.

For his third foray to British shores, as part of the World Stages London Season, Zuabi has for the first time brought a 70 minute long play here performed in English rather than Arabic.

Bearing in mind the difficult political situation in his homeland, it is greatly to this writer's credit that he has chosen to use a mixed Jewish and Palestinian cast to relate an age-old tale drawn from the Bible but equally familiar to all three religions that regard Jerusalem has a home.

The underlying story is that of Abraham and his (anonymous) son Isaac and the relationship that was so badly soured when the aged father came within inches of sacrificing the boy's life in what today might seem to sound like a futile gesture of allegiance. The way that a sheepish Abraham tries to explain his actions certainly ignores any suggestion of divine intervention.

The opening scene witnesses the return of Makram J. Khoury's Abraham with his unnamed young son to face the interrogation and cold shouldering of the confused and petrified youngster's mother, played by Rivka Neumann.

The play takes a metaphysical turn veering towards magic realism as a man and a woman dressed in dirty parkas appear and reveal themselves to be a Wise Ram and Young Lamb, gifted with the angelic vision of seers.

They reappear to offer commentaries on a regular basis throughout the remainder of the play, justifying the large lambswool canopy that hovers over the almost bare stage space and adding warmth to Jon Bausor's deliberately austere design.

It takes time to establish the facts about the final pairing that we meet. The man and wife played by Rami Heuberger and Sivan Sasson are the old man's grown-up son and daughter-in-law. The different strands of the plot become intertwined and circular as firstborn are lost in two generations, once to war and one (in fact never quite born) to a brutal abortion, while the tormented son and stricken father are both deserted by their scared wives. A further element is introduced but not explored in any great depth, which is the Palestinian plight today.

This short work take some deciphering and while the acting is good and it can be moving or thought-provoking, The Beloved does not make as much of potentially intriguing material as it might have.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher