After the success of last year’s The Promise, Ben Brown’s superb play about the events leading up to The Balfour Declaration, The Orange Tree Theatre is returning to that most divisive of political conundrums – the Israel-Palestine conflict – with the opening play of its new season.
While The Promise dealt with the political machinations in and around the British government in 1917, Reading Hebron is a far more modern take on Israel-Palestine as it deals with the fallout from the massacre of 29 Muslims by Israeli physician Dr Baruch Goldstein in 1994.
One of the show’s stars, Peter Guinness, who has appeared in a number of blockbuster films including Sleepy Hollow and Alien 3, says that the play looks at the way “a number of Jews, particularly non-Israeli ones, found themselves questioning whether they were somehow implicated” by Goldstein’s actions.
He adds: “The playwright Jason Sherman, as a Canadian Jew, asked himself this question and so the play has a very serious theme. It asks whether this incident was the actions of a lunatic or if it was it the result of a collective mindset.”
In Reading Hebron, the central character, Nathan Abramowitz, wrestles with these very concerns or, as Guiness puts it, “has a nervous breakdown while all of these different characters pop up in his imagination.”
Guinness plays a range of these figments of Abramowitz’s imagination, from businessmen to rabbis, in a production that he expects will stir up its fair share of controversy.
He says: “Jason is clear the West Bank settlers are not doing the right thing and that the land should be given back to the Palestinians, but hopefully what he does in the play is not so unbalanced. It’s a sensitive area and I think some people will find it offensive – when it was first done in 1995 I understand it was controversial and people walked out.”
Although Guinness admits he doesn’t fancy being pinned against the wall of The Orange Tree pub by irate audience members, he also strongly believes it is vital theatre airs these kind of thorny political issues.
“The situation in the Middle East is no better now than when the play was first done – in fact in many ways it is worse,” he adds.
“People are still dying, blowing themselves up and rockets are still falling in people’s back yards. It is a terrifying situation and what is important about the play is it will make people talk, think and disagree. It is only by talking about these things and confronting the problems that anything will get done.”
Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre, February 9 - March 12, visit orangetree theatre.co.uk