Cumulus Productions have posted a warning outside the theatre about "outdated racial stereotypes" contained within their production of Not Quite Jerusalem. Are they afraid of old attitudes? Do they think we cannot handle past prejudice? Surely theatre is made to challenge us, to make us think. This play certainly made me think – which stereotypes are they worried about? The sympathetic, misjudged Israelis or the bigoted, self-important English?
The play takes us back to 1979, where Mike, Carrie, Pete and Dave have fled grim, divided England for the promised paradise of an Israeli kibbutz. Their working holiday in the sun reveals their bitterness and disappointment with the country they have left and their lack of understanding of their hosts.
Pete and Dave soon alienate themselves with their foul-mouthed, high-spirited behaviour. Carrie desperately tries to fit in, but cannot relate to either her fellow-countrymen or the Israelis. Only Cambridge drop-out Mike seems able to articulate what it means to be young, conflicted, English, and a very long way from home.
The challenge for the actors portraying the kibbutzniks is in lifting their basic English from caricature to reveal believable individuals. They make it a strength. Russell Bentley allows Ami to be the quiet, thoughtful rock who keeps the kibbutz and its inhabitants functioning. Ailsa Joy is a delight as Gila. She imbues her broken English with exotic flavour as we watch her intelligence flash beneath her brooding eyes. She controls the stage. Ryan Whittle’s Mike is the troubled conscience of the play. He effectively shows us his struggle to reconcile his peers’ boorish behaviour with his belief of social injustice back in England. Miranda Braun delicately reveals Carrie's story. She subtly develops her character whilst the others overlook her. Joe McArdle has little in his part to make us like Dave, and he succeeds. Ronnie Yorke allows Pete to be the immature child/man unaware of his actions.
Maybe the first half is a little slow, but they are living in extreme heat, which would result in a certain languor. Director Peter Kavanagh makes great use of the small space. Design by Ceci Calf and lighting by Ryan Stafford create a believable world with some beautiful images. Isobel Pellow’s costumes suit the situation perfectly.
It's an interesting piece to revive after 40 years. Not perfect, but still a warning: have attitudes improved much in our current polarised society? Are these racial stereotypes so outdated after all?