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12:37 at Finborough Theatre

I have seen some outstanding acting recently at the intimate Finborough Theatre, and this new play is no exception. The highly talented cast quickly and skilfully draws the audience in so that we feel fully involved in the epic tale they are unfolding.

Eoin O'Dubhghaill and Ruth Lass - credit Yaron Lapid.
Eoin O’Dubhghaill and Ruth Lass – credit Yaron Lapid.

The story of 12:37 begins in 1935 in Ireland where two Irish Jewish brothers are forced to leave and move to England. We follow their lives and loves during World War Two ending in Palestine in 1946 and the creation of the state of Israel two years later. All this in two hours!

Alex Cartuson is Paul, the elder brother, trained as a doctor. He is totally believable as is Eoin O’Dubhghaill, in the role of his slightly younger brother, Cecil, also a doctor, though one who prefers to perform on stage. If only they did not fall in love with the same girl: Rina, played by Lisa O’Connor.

O’Connor has a beautiful poise and stillness in her portrayal that is infinitely watchable, with a highly expressive face, though never overdone, and attractive calm speaking voice; she is also able to dance, so it is no wonder both brothers fall for her, even if for much of the play they don’t admit it.

Ruth Lass plays all the other female roles, well able to differentiate each one and Danann McAleer the other male ones, including a range of members of the British Army.

To write an epic play on this scale, using only five actors, is quite an achievement, and playwright/director Julia Pascal ensures that the pace of the story telling in twenty-nine short scenes rarely flags. In fact at times the audience has a job keeping up with the ebb and flow of the action. Pascal uses music and dance to link the scenes and only once does her imagination seem to falter. This is in Act Two Scene Twelve where she uses all five actors to declaim what they can see is happening to the King David Hotel, whereas the horror of the scene seems to call for something less obvious. Overall, though, this is a very worthy achievement, even if, as she asks in a preface: “Is this a good time to be writing about Jews blowing up the British?”.

The minimalist set, just a black space, has been designed by Liberty Monroe, very effective lighting by Jon Stacey and essential sound effects, helping the audience’s understanding, by Flick Isaac-Chilton.

Pascal’s new play has opened up a period of British, Jewish and Irish history that has lain almost forgotten for nearly ninety years. The result is a gripping piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

At 12.37pm on 22 July 1946, the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed. 91 people were killed, 46 wounded.

The bombing was carried out by right-wing Zionists, targeting the headquarters of the British in Palestine.

Two Irish Jewish brothers, Paul and Cecil Green, journey from their Dublin birthplace, to battling antisemitism on the streets of East London. Their Irish nationalism propels them towards Jewish nationalism as they struggle against British Imperialism to form a Jewish nation state.

As violence between British soldiers, and Jewish terrorists erupts, Paul and Cecil become involved in an act of terrorism that changes both their lives.

12:37 raises complex and controversial questions around Jewish violence, homeland and national identity in a stunning new play that is both a hard-hitting historical epic and an intimate family drama.

Cast: Alex Cartuson (Paul Green), Ruth Lass (Minnie Green/Shoshana Liebovicz), Danann McAleer (Harry Cohen/Jonathan Stein), Lisa O’Connor (Eileen O’Reily/Rina Goldberg) and Eoin O’Dubhghaill (Cecil Green)

Set and Costume Design LIBERTY MONROE
Lighting Design JON STACEY
Producer: Presented by Pascal Theatre Company in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Tuesday, 29 November – Wednesday, 21 December 2022

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