Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Facts - review

Finborough Theatre, London

An Israeli, a Palestinian, and a Jew walk into an interrogation room… whilst potentially being the set up for a rather non-PC joke, it also forms the basis of Canadian playwright Arthur-Milner’s politically charged UK debut. And what a debut; Facts is as nerve-racking as they come, blending a highly intelligent script with a tension that grips like a vice, it’s both exhilarating and poignant.

Photo: Peter Marsh
Inspired by the real-life murder of an American archaeologist, Facts throws together two detectives, an Israeli and a Palestinian (and their inherent prejudices) to solve the aforementioned murder in the confines of an Israeli interrogation room. Their investigation leads them to bring in a Jewish settler for a very heated questioning, consequentially thrusting their own prejudices and beliefs into the spotlight. The dingy set design by Georgia Low, reminiscent of a run-down 50’s American diner, accentuates the claustrophobia of the situation, compressing the pressure like an over-inflated balloon.

Milner picked a risky topic for a play, in the sense that he’s depicting a culture not ingrained with the audience. It’s a testament to his writing that the possibility of this being an obstacle simply doesn’t register whilst watching.  He writes in such a way that the culture is absorbed and the tensions and prejudices presented lose none of their impact. Although the cultural tensions are specific, the themes of race and religion are universal and it is both fascinating and chilling to explore their impact in these circumstances.

The cast is better than rock solid, with their terrifyingly brilliant characterisation matched only by their ability to play off each other. Palestinian Khalid (Phillip Arditti) is played with an intense calm, who whilst being the most down-to-earth character also hints at a suppressed rage, which threatens to ignite, courtesy of his less tactful Israeli colleague Yossi (Michael Feast), or the chillingly fanatical Danny (Paul Rattray). Feast performs with a dark humour and arrogance that when conflicted by his colleague and detainee becomes completely unpredictable and Rattray as the accused Israeli Jew is sickly and inflammatory with his prejudice fronted by a smug little smirk.

The warning on the exterior of the auditorium door of a gunshot was either a directorial masterstroke or a rare gift of health and safety necessity, either way, the knowledge of an impending gunshot made the volatile scenes almost unbearable (in a good way). Yossi’s gun was constantly visible in its holster, and Danny’s glock couldn’t have been confiscated more slowly; for all the tension this put on the audience, real bullets would have probably been safer.

At its heart, Facts is a testament to just how powerful fringe theatre can be; it’s a play that deserves a bigger audience but would feel out of place in any larger auditorium. Everyone involved in this production deserves commendation, serious and intimidating topics hit hard and connect; it’s a privilege to see this production, so don’t deprive yourself of the chance to see it.

This production runs until 23rd March 2013

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