In 1997 David Hare was 50 years old and the nation of Israel was celebrating its 50th birthday. These two events would have nothing in common, except for the fact that Royal Court’s International Department invited David Hare to visit Israel for 3 weeks and to write a play about his experience.
The problems of Israel and Palestine seem to be a never-ending conflict, and today in 2002 the dispute appears just as intractable as it was in 1997. The play was first performed by David Hare making his stage debut in 1998 at the Royal Court Theatre and later transferred to the Booth Theatre, Broadway.
I always find the idea of a writer performing his own work, especially a monologue, as arrogant and pretentious, yet this far from describes David Hare. He walks on to the stage whilst the audience is still chatting waiting for the requests to turn off mobiles etc that usually announces the beginning of a performance. His demeanour seems slightly awkward and he stands exposed without any props before the gaze of the eager audience.
He quickly goes into his monologue in the course of which he plays up to 33 people on stage. He describes his visit with Israeli settlers, Palestinian refuges, theatre director’s etc. And one can share his perplexity at the seemingly bizarre behaviour of the religious fundamentalist Jews who are willing to place themselves and their families in constant danger in order to claim back a land that they believe God promised to them thousands of years ago. He describes meeting with a respected Palestinian politician who complains bitterly about the corruption of the PLO leader Arafat and accuses him of leaving the youth with no hope. We are introduced to ex politician Shulamit Aloni who seems never to have recovered from the murder of Rabin at the hands of Jewish fundamentalists. Shulamit accuses Israel, a nation of 6 million people with the most powerful army in the region, of always wanting to play the victim.
David Hare provides no conclusions, just questions. We all know something about the dispute between Israel and Palestine and maybe our own sympathies lie with one side or the other. However, when one is introduced to the human faces of the people on both sides of the conflict one feels caught up in the on going passion, an ongoing Via Dolorosa (The way of the cross), of two peoples destined to share a small piece of land, each afraid to learn how.
David Hare’s performance is remarkable. His delivery may not be polished, as he admits himself “I normally leave this kind of thing to the likes of Judy Dench”, but it mesmerises. The best piece of theatre I have seen for a long time.
What other critics had to say.....
BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The evening still seems eminently worthwhile." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Words that make sense of a crisis." And goes on to say, "Via Dolorosa marks a riveting tussle between closed and receptive minds." DAVID BENEDICT for THE OBSERVER says, "Engrossing, intellectually scrupulous piece of political stand-up." " RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Many stones left unturned." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A truly remarkable piece of theatre." DOMINIC MAXWELL for TIME OUT says, "Informative, funny, thrillingly intelligent and - of course - inconclusive."
External links to full reviews from newspapers