FringeReview UK 2019
Ali and Dahlia’s staged in the lower Pleasance Studio. Directed in the round by Kerry Kyriakos Michael who also (with Kit Hinchcliffe) designed round the sparse metallic construct leaves everything to stark imagination under Will Monks’ steady lighting. There’s nothing but Will Monks’ pre-set video of events 1948-2018 flashed forward and back, and projections of the dates of scenes with backdrops on each of the bare walls above the audience. Munotida Chinyanga’s sound switches from verismo shots to enthralling period pop music. Yasmin Paige’s Assistant Directing involved set construction. Produced by Maya Ellis.
A hooded man’s brought before another who kicks him. When he takes his hood off later his former lover and he stare in astonished recognition. She’s been sent to represent him. Or so she says. He’s Palestinian, his family once from Jaffa. She’s Jewish, living near Jaffa.
He’s crossed the wall illegally. Now he’s in Al Jalame West Bank prison. A soldier is missing. It’s May 14th 2018. The U. S. has provocatively set up its embassy in Jerusalem seventy years to the day the State of Israel was founded.
Ali and Dahlia might be Tariq Jordan’s debut play but make no mistake, it explodes with talent and relevance, passion and – in this case – Jordan’s own twin Iraqi/Jewish heritage. Jordan though brings years of high profile acting – he was a memorable Pip in ETT’s touring Great Expectations – and above all he’s a born storyteller. This story in part happened to him. Arrested and detained at Tel Aviv Airport for 12 hours, he was ordered by the Israeli military to renounce his ‘tainted’ Jewish heritage and refused.
The play’s staged in the lower Pleasance Studio. Directed in the round by Kerry Kyriakos Michael who also (with Kit Hinchcliffe) designed round the sparse metallic construct it leaves everything to stark imagination under Will Monks’ steady lighting. Three basic audience chairs are placed near one of the exit doors rendering actors often flush with the audience. There’s nothing but Will Monks’ pre-set video of events 1948-2018 flashed forward and back, with subsequent projections of dates of scenes with backdrops on each of the bare walls above the audience. Munotida Chinyanga’s sound switches from verismo shots to enthralling period pop music. Yasmin Paige’s assistant directing involved set construction.
Bar sandwiches, oranges, a box and a key we just follow sinewy rapidity as three actors circle and pounce in love and war. Deli Segal’s Dahlia, Waj Ali’s Ali and Kai Spellman taking Asher and other parts form a note-perfect triangle, a Huit Clos of love short-circuiting. They use Hebrew and Arabic on occasion.
As we swing back and forth through their lives and lies, we learn Ali and Dahlia meet at 14 in 2002, when he tries to shoot her and her brother Asher with a sling-bow. Not long after after she gives him a speed Bar Mitzvah. Dahlia wants to show Ali where his grandparents’ house was, and the sea. Love shyly blossoms – Dahlia takes the lead – but then do does war, exploding into their lives, dropping uniforms on Asher and Dahlia.
There’s a teasing savage stand-off, first as Ali disbelieves she’s a lawyer, but sent as a deliberate plant to a known backstory. She doubts she can represent him anyway. Words like ‘retaliation’ have to be dropped, the opposite of his first encounter where Ali’s kicked to adopt formulaic self-incriminating formulae.
Each subsequent meeting – interspersed with a chronological series of flashbacks – is freighted with memory, desire and defensiveness. Food, gifts, at one unguarded moment a passionate kiss from Dahlia: each destabilize their attempts to get them both out of jail; and the top lawyer Dahlia’s miraculously engaged.
There’s fun too. An old game – we soon find out how old – has Ali declare them both as in a movie though he chooses ‘This is my movie and I choose Chris Pine.’ And above all as Segal and Ali bring to this their simmering chemistry, there’s love. Not so much former but untimely ripped. They once did a lot of Romeo and Juliet speeches together. Except Dahlia will insist on imagining Ali performing in a Tel Aviv theatre: a dramatic subtext below the irony. The Palestine one was recently destroyed.
Asher’s transition – from the boy who runs whilst more ballsy Dahlia toughs it out to macho soldier – is incomplete. There’s a curious moment when we realize late on that it’s he who hesitates to pull a trigger on a U.N-quoting shepherd who refuses to retreat, and his fellow-soldier who elegantly resolves things by shooting a sheep instead: in the circumstances, humane. By the time this happens we’re deep in dramatic irony.
But it’s Asher who disrupts the burgeoning (and by report, raunchy) romance as Dahlia’s and their parents welcome Ali as Dahlia’s chosen partner. And he knows how to do it.
If one reveal explains events in 2008, the couple find more to reveal just at the moment they begin to rebuild a redemptive future. Both prone to lying, whose is the truer fiction? Jordan springs his traps right up to the end and then opens a door too.
Spellman well negotiates the tremulous boy hardening into a pillar of khaki. Ali finds registers for anger, loss, tenderness and reserves of something else towards the end. Like Segal he moves like a dancer. Segal herself – whose costumes change most rapidly – also finds an almost colaratura range of vocal difference: steely, plaintive, passionate, neutral seductive and drained; moving from tender to fright and denial in a flick. She’s mesmerizing.
This is a phenomenally well-written first play. Jordan’s acting might have informed his knowledge but there’s not an ounce of redundant phrasing – even if the production snipped a little of the riskier text. Plotwise the use of a third person is pivotal, even though some elements of the third actor’s presence add amplitude rather than integral compulsion. But again Jordan knows how to be generous to actors and the integrity of triangles.
Michael’s direction is taut and balletic. Nic Connaughton’s move from the Arcola promises to make the Pleasance a vibrant centre for new writing. So though this paly should be seen in a larger theatre, it comprises two auspicious debuts: the new Pleasance season, and Jordan’s writing career. He’s hit the wall running and going straight up.