In the Bible, and the Koran, God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him as a test of obedience. [Amir Nizar’s Zuabi]’s 70-minute play for his Palestinian company ShiberHur, co-produced with the Young Vic and the Bush as part of World Stages London, starts with Abraham returning home with his young lad.
What happened up there? How did God intervene, and will Isaac, or Young Son as he is called here, survive the shock of his salvation? The piece is not in the same class as other work we have seen from ShiberHur at the Young Vic, but it has a lyrical, agricultural quality of intense peasant life and spiritual yearning.
And it’s played out under a sheep's wool canopy designed by Jon Bausor that changes colour with the dramatic temperature. Abraham’s first son was lost at war and, seven years after the mountain incident, grown-up Son is racked with pain over wanting to become a man.
The only way to do that, apparently, is to first become a sheep. And that’s where two ghostly sheep in ruffs and rumpled costumes, climbing round the corner of Abraham’s cottage, come in. Sheep have been hard done by; their wool has become nylon, and grown-up Son is going to take their revenge on his own farming family.
At the same time, grown-up Son’s wife, Wife, wants another son, but grown-up Son has lost the urge, and – is this our old friend magic realism making a come-back? – Abraham appears again on the mountain top wielding a machine-gun. He accuses grown-up Son of not being a real man, like his first son, the one in the war.
It’s all more melodramatic than mythical, unfortunately, but the acting is riveting, though Rami Heuberger as grown-up Son could rein it in a bit without losing impact. Makram J Khoury is an imposing Abraham, Rivka Neumann a Lorca-like Mother of pain and potage – she’s all sobs and soups – while Sivan Sasson manages to remain reasonably dignified while her waters break all over the stage.
You feel the production has been constructed on commission rather than springing from any intestinal urgency to tell the story, even if we could fully comprehend what that story was. But the two woolly wallahs, Taher Najib as Wise Ram and Samaa Wakeem as Young Lamb, are athletically impressive as a sort of Greek mini-chorus.