(Arifa Akbar’s aricle appeared in the Guardian, 5/2; Seething with anger … Hala Omran as Reem in Two Palestinians Go Dogging at the Royal Court, London. Photograph: Ali Wright.)
Royal Court, London
Set two decades into the future, in Palestinian territories that are still occupied, Sami Ibrahim’s play is a startlingly bold tragicomedy and a furious call to action
Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not – bar a few fruity scenes – a play about dogging, and there are more than two Palestinians in it. There are Israelis too, living in contested territory and enacting the fear, hostility and oppression of that conflict which has become so dreadfully familiar to us through news feeds that even the language around its reporting is inflammatory.
What this slowly rumbling earthquake of a show does so startlingly well is take the conflict and make it small, specific, multi-layered – yet as devastatingly epic as Greek tragedy. Sami Ibrahim’s script revolves around a Palestinian family living in a village east of Jerusalem and being slowly destroyed. Reem (Hala Omran, bolshy, mercurial) is its matriarch and our central narrator; alongside her is her melancholic husband, Sayeed (Miltos Yerolemou, just wonderful).
When an Israeli soldier, Sara (Mai Weisz), is murdered, there are calls for retribution; but Reem has her own scores to settle after her children are killed. Through her we get a sense of a community living under siege, seething with powerless anger, while Sayeed just emanates hopeless resignation.
This local focus on one family has echoes of Lorca, in its intractable grudge-bearing and cycles of violence. Reem tells us of the terror of the Red Zone, of Israeli troops taking sniper shots at unarmed Palestinians, of drone strikes on houses, of children being gunned down at point blank range – including her own 12-year-old girl and then a second daughter, Salwa (Sofia Danu).
Directed by Omar Elerian, the production is many things at once: playful and tragic, baggy and taut, always pulling back from whimsy at the tipping point of self-indulgence. Just as we are lulled by a moment of comedy or metafictive silliness, violence comes careering around the corner.
So many of its scenes stay seared on the mind: Reem watching a video of her son’s last moments; Sara begging for her life before it is horrifyingly stamped out. The saddest scene, for me, is a quiet one with Reem and Sayeed sitting side by side, she sifting lentils, he peeling an orange. “Can you imagine what it’d be like, not living here? Not doing all of this? … Protests and campaigns and watching people die?” he says to her, and she sounds nonplussed by such an implausible thought.