two Palestinians Go Dogging - Royal Court
Sami Ibrahim’s award-winning play arrives at the Royal Court
Reem is here to tell us a story, a story of Palestine in 2043. Conflict still rages on, destroying families and villages as they fight for their right to a home, to exist. But also, they are going dogging. Sami Ibrahim’s award-winning play has arrived at the Royal Court Theatre and it brings a new way of looking at the complex conflict between Palestine and Israel, a more human-centric perspective.
We are introduced to Reem and her husband Sayeed, who for a few hours tell their story and the story of those around them in the ongoing brutality of Israeli occupation. Divided into small chapters, we are given interwoven snippets of their lives, filled with loss, heartache and rebellion, all delivered through a combination of narration and dialogue. Ibrahim’s script is peppered with well-crafted language that ensures that the characters are convincing and highly personable.
The play is extremely self-aware, injecting much-needed humour - this is a play about conflict after all and was never going to be an entirely comfortable watch. Within the darker moments is where this production shines as cast and creatives work seamlessly together to create a pungent atmosphere that is both challenging and exhilarating to watch. Elena Peña’s sound design works tirelessly to engulf us in this world, expertly using spatial audio allowing us to feel the bullets flying around us and delicately underscoring the tensest moments of the play. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design works perfectly in tandem with the sound and enriches this production even further. Both deliver a technical masterclass.
The cast is equally strong with Hala Omran at the helm for the bulk of the production. With a microphone in hand like a slightly twisted stand-up comic, she is charming and likeable but equally fierce and cold when needed. Her effortless narration is our window into the play and she makes for the perfect guide. As Sayeed, Miltos Yerolemou is also well cast. Where Reem can be stony or fixated, Sayeed is calmer, agreeable and more in touch with the effect that this life is having on them. He represents a small part of humanity that has survived in the inhospitable contested territory. The rest of the ensemble brings humour, depth and gravity to their roles with a notable performance from Philipp Mogilnitskiy as Adam, who's character highlights the ramifications of the war on both sides.
Despite what the synopsis of this play says about “being allowed to laugh,” it is full of testing and tough to watch moments all delivered exceptionally well. The harsh land in which this play is set is monstrous and merciless, with the, albeit fictional, human stories the most compelling element. It is therefore, frustrating that the play becomes obsessed with being a meta and overly self-aware piece. The plot becomes muddled and confused, with the author admitting via a letter to Reem at the end, that he does not know how to conclude the play. This causes the production to drag and the nearly three-hour runtime to feel unnecessary. It is a shame because there is a compelling and educational narrative at its core that ends up being forgotten.
I found this piece to be highly informative about the true situation of Palestinians caught in this conflict - despite being set in the 2040s, it very much feels like the present-day, a grim nod towards things never truly changing. If anything, it left me with more questions than answers - very much in a good way as I look to educate myself further. It is clear that so much effort has been made to ensure the authenticity of the characters on stage and in this the play delivers. In those heartbreaking moments, it is impossible not to feel their pain. Ibrahim’s play aims to differentiate itself from being a piece purely about pain and instead shows the normalisation of destruction in conflict through the lens of humour. I would argue it still does this, but the consistent fourth wall breaking does little to help.
It runs until 1 June - Tickets
Photos: Ali Wright