Saturday 3 December 2022

12:37 - Review

 Finborough Theatre, London


Written and directed by Julia Pascal

The cast of 12:37

Julia Pascal’s 12:37 is a multi-layered exploration of nationalism in the mid 20th century, that follows Paul and Cecil Green, two Irish-Jewish brothers, from 1935 Dublin through to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, via a 1936 encounter with London’s fascism.

Pascal’s research is detailed, spotlighting a hatred of the Jews on both sides of the Irish Sea that prompts the brothers, via separate circuitous routes to find themselves in Palestine under the British Mandate.  Paul (Alex Cartuson) is lean and fit, a boxer in his youth, who works his way into the nascent army fighting for the establishment of the Jewish state and ultimately into being part of the terrorist gang who, at 12:37 on 22nd July 1946, bombed Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, a key base for the British Forces. That devastating action that was to prove influential in the UK’s withdrawal from Palestine and the subsequent creation of Israel. Cecil (Eoin O’Dubhghaill), less of a fighter than his brother and a kinder soul with a beautiful voice, finds his own journey to the Holy Land via ENSA, the British military’s entertainments division.

Perhaps the most intriguing character in Pascal’s play is the young Rina Goldberg (Lisa O’Connor) who we first encounter in London as a firebrand communist raising funds for Moscow’s Yiddish Theatre, and who by 1946 has survived the Holocaust, experiencing horrendous sexual violence having been moved around between concentration camps by the Nazis. The love triangle that Pascal creates between Rina and the brothers may lack credibility, but O’Connor’s interpretation of Rina’s horrific journey is a masterclass of powerful understatement.

The quintet of actors is completed by Ruth Lass and Danann McAleer and across the two hours of the drama all five put in outstanding and compelling performances, with Pascal’s direction making ingenious use of the production’s evidently modest budget and the Finborough’s compact space. An observation on the casting (albeit a company of excellent performers, doing their job superbly) is that the producers appear to have put more effort into ensuring the ethnic authenticity of actors playing most of the Irish characters, than they have as regards those playing the Jewish characters.

Dr Pascal is at her best in her slow, harrowing reveal of Rina’s story and equally talented in the bold technical construction of her play. Politically however she loses objectivity, her writing suggesting that she is uncomfortable with the concept of national identity per se. That this production’s printed programme/playtext itself ignores the time and location of the play’s final scene, set in 1948 in the newly-formed Israeli state, speaks volumes.

Runs until 21st December

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