Haya and Jamil

Sat 23rd February 2013

reviews

Florence Strickland

at 11:02 on 24th Feb 2013

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The last time I saw a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Juliet eventually cried, because the laughter of the audience became overwhelming. Tragedy is infamously harder to pull off than comedy. ‘Haya and Jamil’ by Nathalie Smuha used the script of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to explore the tensions and contentions between Israelis and Palestinians. Before seeing the play, I was intrigued to see the politicising of such a fundamental Shakespearean classic, and certainly thought the cause worthwhile. But, I felt much of the production seemed stunted and unnatural; rather than incurring our sympathy and attention to a prevalent issue, the audience often were stifling laughs – I don’t think it was supposed to be a comedy.

The structure of the play was intelligent and insightful; Haya and Jamil are aligned through their pacifist outlooks to the conflict in two separate scenes, surrounded by angry and ignorant family members to oppose them. Increasingly, the lines of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that most of us can recognise immediately, “…peace, I hate the word” etc. become more and more frequent as the anguished emotions featured in the original play take centre stage incited by the dogma and restrictions of the religious and cultural paths the two families pursue.

Nevertheless, perhaps because it was translated from its original Dutch, many of the lines often fell flat. Izzie Price and Joseph Burke as Haya and Jamil respectively obviously have talent, but the horribly clichéd lines of their love scenes left me cringing so badly I could hardly watch. Phillipe Bosher’s direction did not aid their plight. During the party that unites Palestinians and Israelis for one night only, the lights were going on and off from scene to scene so quickly that we could almost have been at a warehouse rave.

I’m sure Nathalie Smuha’s aim was to challenge perceptions fuelled by the media by presenting Israelis and Palestinians in the domestic sphere. Despite achieving this, I found it difficult to believe that a Jew and Muslim with such devout and religiously engrained upbringings would so quickly forget their religions, and throw Christianity into the mix – presented as a happy medium between the two. It seemed a rather gratuitous and selfish use of religion, and didn’t soften me to their plight. After all, the foundation of the conflict surely originated from the strength of faith itself. Even if Haya and Jamil are pacifists, their personal faiths were not presented as an issue – surely a topic with a wealth of internal conflict.

I do not want to ignore the efforts of all involved, which were obviously huge and with intent that I admire. However, with such high hopes for a worthy topic I was disappointed. Further refinement could have rendered this a highly successful play.

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