Friday, 13 October 2017

REVIEW: Oslo at the Harold Pinter Theatre


Lord Reith set the mission of the BBC to Inform, Educate and Entertain and it is rare when a West End play sets out to deliver these lofty ambitions in a commercial drama but JT Rogers has a written a brilliant play that delivers this with an outstanding cast and a slick good looking production. It is a docudrama with a strong feel of verbatim theatre that sets out to Inform us of the role Norway played in the delicate negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in a hectic 12 months in 1992/93. It Educates us on the technique of gradualism in negotiating between extreme opposing factions to reach what seems an impossible goal, challenges us all to consider how we can support the “possibilities on the horizon” and promotes the work of The International Peace Institute. Most of all it Entertains for over two and half hours as the delicate and fraught discussions unfold. Director Bartlett Sher cleverly manages this balance to create an enthralling evening.

We are guided through the process by Terje Rod-Larsen, the first director of the Fafo Institute which played a central role in the negotiations and his wife Mona Juul , a career minded official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. This couple played by Toby Stephens and Lydia Leonard with grit, optimism and humour provide the exposition of the process directly to the audience and carefully through white lies, misdirection and determination bring the two sides together. As they say “what is a lie but a dream that might come true”. We see little of their personal relationship as the play focuses on their professional engagement in the negotiations.

Central to the story is how the two opposing forces who hate each other are brought together by the negotiators. Initially the Israelis are represented by Professor Hirschfeld (Paul Herzberg) and Professor Pundak (Thomas Arnold), two unlikely shuffling intermediaries. Across the table is Ahmed Qurie (the wonderful Peter Polycarpou) and his communist sidekick Hassan Asfour (a tense coiled spring, ready to explode, played by Nabil Elouahabi) and they seem to drive the development of the Declaration of Principles (DOP). In the second half the arrival of the official Israeli delegation of Joel Singer (Yair Jonah Lotan) and Uri Savir (Philip Arditti), threaten to disrupt and unpick the progress as tensions increase.

There are also lovely cameo roles like Toril and Finn Grandal (Geraldine Alexander and Howard Ward) who provide the food and drink that seems to melt the opposition and suspicion and build and cement the trust.

There are plenty of sharp witty lines and jokes amongst the serious debate and negotiations often wrapped up in well told stories like the Jewish man who accuses the Chinese man of responsibility for the Pearl Harbour attack, and the Chinese man punches the Jew for his nations responsibility for the sinking of the SS Titanic with the explanation “Iceberg, Goldberg, what is the difference”.

The action moves quickly from hotel room to hotel room, the Larsen apartment,
the street and the Institute with clever elegant back projection to set the scene (design by Michael Yeargan and 59 Productions) and simple furnishings moved swiftly into place by the cast. The use of footage of the events in Israel at the time adds to the appreciation and tension of what is at stake.

This is sure to collect awards but more importantly deserves wider exposure as its message is strong 25 years after the events it depicts and offers hope in turbulent global times that peace can be found even amongst the most violently opposed groups.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★★
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