Not quite change: Not Quite Jerusalem @finborough

Has anything changed in England in the forty years since Paul Keebler’s Not Quite Jerusalem premiered at the Royal Court? A play about a country full of crap towns, no opportunities and a class divide could have been written today. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre and unexpectedly has new resonance about the opportunities afforded to people in this country.

Set in 1979, the play centres around Mike, Carrie, Pete and Dave who travel to Israel to volunteer working on a kibbutz. In the pre-EasyJet revolution, that was a thing. They were expecting the trip to be full of sun, sex and beer. But they find themselves instead mucking out cow sheds and working in the sweltering heat. But Mike, a lost Cambridge dropout, fed up trying to fit in understands why he ran away from England. When he takes a liking to the straight-talking Gila who is completing her final year military service on the kibbutz, it leads to an unlikely meeting of minds across cultures.

Things come to a head when the group struggle to come up with a theatrical representation of their culture that doesn’t involve getting pissed and shouting expletives. But the play explores how these friends and buffoons have their own codes of behaviour and support. And in a story that initially is a tale about a clash of cultures, it becomes more about young people understanding their place in the world. After travelling all the way to work as volunteers on a kibbutz to realise that.

A great ensemble of young actors has been assembled. Particularly Alisa Joy as the no-nonsense Gila and Ryan Whittle as the lost Cambridge dropout Mike who portray the passion of their countries and culture. The production looks great too. It captures the heat and isolation of the kibbutz for the young foreigners, which is remarkable given London is cold and wet at the moment.

Not everything about the play has aged well. Some of the comedy directed at the young Carrie comes across as misogynistic and cruel.  And perhaps some of the laddish behaviours could have been cut. But the play has been commissioned by the Finborough Theatre to celebrate its fortieth anniversary and in keeping with their programme to rediscover forgotten texts to see their relevance today.

Directed by Peter Kavanagh, Not Quite Jerusalem is at Finborough Theatre until 28 March.


Photos by Kirsten McTernan

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