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Review of Checkpoint Chana at the Finborough Theatre

Checkpoint Chana Dress Rehearsal 04/03/2018
Checkpoint Chana Dress Rehearsal 04/03/2018

I have a strong suspicion that this is a production that will get slicker and tidier as its run progresses. But, at the end of the day, it is only possible to review the performance that is actually seen. Checkpoint Chana came across as a play that still needed some modifications, both in terms of the script and the production. I begin with the play’s pivotal point. Bev (Geraldine Somerville) has written a poem. There are two lines that have stirred much online discussion, much of it negative. They are: “She searches her bag / Like a Nazi did to her bubbe”. The ‘she’ in question is, from what I could deduce, a border control official in Israel, and therefore, in a way, a representative of the Israeli government.

The analogy, aside from causing offense, doesn’t even make sense. A bag search, the sort of thing that goes on in theatres and concert halls on a regular basis, is compared to the actions of the Third Reich: make of that what you will, if you are able to make anything out of it. The lack of credibility of such a statement is made all the more bizarre by Bev’s stellar career in academia to date – it is very difficult to believe that someone of her intelligence and calibre would make such an odd remark, irrespective of her views about the Middle East (or, indeed, about anything else).

Both Tamsin (Ulrika Krishnamurti), PA to Bev, and David (Matt Mella), a journalist on assignment to interview Bev, are very stilted, and even when being directly addressed by Bev might as well be in another room. Neither are very convincing in their separate platitudes about, respectively, sticking by Bev over the last few years and being a ‘fan’ of her work. This leaves Michael (Nathaniel Wade), who works at the arts centre where Bev is giving a performance of a selection of her work, to engage with her as best he can, both at a personal and professional level. ‘Personal’, for anyone wondering, never goes beyond the level of a selfie and a quick recorded video greeting for Michael’s mum.

The exploration of what passes as acceptable in the social media era and dealing with being on the wrong side of prevailing public opinion is somewhat dulled by the insertion into the storyline of a critical incident in Bev’s personal life. The play attempts to use this, and other factors such as Bev’s generous alcohol intake, as narrative devices to mitigate against what might have been a smooth career comeback for her.

The blocking is good, especially for an in-the-round production. Some early light humour gradually gives way to an increasingly dark atmosphere. One or two images are a tad too obvious – for instance, in burying her head in a couple of pillows, Bev buries her proverbial head in the sand. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the show as at its best when Bev is instead acting like a peacock showing off its feathers.

But that doesn’t happen until rather late in the proceedings, and by that point, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for any of the characters, bar young Michael, just trying to do his job amidst all the shouting. There’s some food for thought in an otherwise slow-paced and cluttered play that would do better to decide to focus either in delving deeper into questions about modern ethics or exploring issues surrounding mental health, or stretch to a two-act play and cover both more fully.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Poet Bev Hemmings is in the eye of a storm after she publishes a poem that the world seems to believe is anti-Semitic.
She’s convinced she’s innocent, but everyone else – including her PA, Tamsin – wants her to apologise. A press interview is planned to begin her public rehabilitation, but Bev’s dying father, erratic behaviour and tendency to drink make her public contrition a complex process.
Checkpoint Chana examines the point where pro-Palestinian criticism of the government of Israel and anti-Semitism blur.

Originally seen as a staged reading as part of Vibrant 2017 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights, the world premiere of
Checkpoint Chana by Jeff Page runs at the Finborough Theatre, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday
matinees from Sunday, 4 March 2018

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED


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