Uncovering Extraorinary "Facts" at the Finborough Theatre

Penny Flood praises a play with fresh insights into the Israel/Palestine conflict

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Facts is an extraordinary, marvellous play – a three hander set in the interrogation room of an Israeli army facility in the West Bank /Occupied Palestinian Territories, with action that takes place over 80 tense minutes.

In it, playwright Arthur Milner offers new perspectives on faith, belief and history with the premise that it’s what people believe happened in history rather than what actually happened affect the present, as well giving fresh insights into the Israel/Palestine conflict specifically.

It was inspired by a real-life occurrence, the unsolved murder of an archaeologist in the West Bank. An American archaeologist has been shot. The two policemen, Khalid a Palestinian (Philip Arditti), Yossi an American Jew (Michael Feast), have a suspect: a Jewish fundamentalist Danny (Paul Rattray) who lives in a settlement in Palestinian territory.

But in this intense, multi-layered production, nothing is straightforward and there is more at stake here. In Yossi’s mind Danny is guilty - but what underlies his vicious interrogation?

Archaeology in the Holy Lands is a contentious issue when findings challenge the Bible’s version of history, something that could upset religious fanatics (Jews, Muslims, Christians) who see the Old Testament as the unchanging word of God and accept it as the ultimate truth. So there could be a lot of people who would feel justified in shooting an archaeologist.

Each of the play’s characters has their own views of history. Yossi sees it as tradition, for Khalid it’s a tragedy, but for Danny it’s the absolute truth. And it’s these personal interpretations of history that affect how they see the current situation and how they react to each other.

Alongside this is the question of Danny’s guilt – did he do it? They’ve got lots of circumstantial evidence but can they prove it? And what is it that Yossi’s trying to prove Danny guilty of? The shooting or his unflinching belief in the bible story, which goes against Yossi’s unflinching atheism and a view of Israel as the liberal modern democracy dreamed of by some of the socialist Zionist pioneers?

These strong clashes between different Jewish understandings of what Israel should be is something rarely brought to such vivid life to a wider audience. According to programme, this reflects disputes Milner had with his father, and this way in which individuals’ personal experiences are entangled with great historical events lies at the heart of the play. For example, the relationship between Yossi and Khalid is a complex mix of respect, anger, friendship and fear.

Superb acting and direction keep the tension up all the way to the end. We’re very lucky to have someone of the calibre of Michael Feast at the Finborough.

This isn’t a play for anybody who isn’t prepared to be challenged with new ways of looking at the world. But those people who think it’s one of the duties of theatre to open up new ideas and suggest different ways of thinking about things will appreciate it.

Facts is at the Finborough Theatre on until March 23. The theatre strongly recommends booking online though you can also book by phone on 0844 847 1652.


March 6, 2013