Plan D, by Palestinian Irish playwright Hannah Khalil, was inspired by oral testimonies of Palestinians and Israelis who lived through the 1948 war which resulted in the creation of the state of Israel. Its title refers to the plan undertaken by the Israeli army to forcibly remove Palestinians from their homes to make way for Israeli settlements, but Khalil is keen to stress that Plan D could be set in any place or time.
The play follows one family, its members referred to only by their roles within the household, as they are forced from their home by the threat of violence against them. The arrival of a Cousin (Richard Sumitro) from a faraway village interrupts their simple but contented existences with bad news. Where he’s from people are on the move, too afraid to stay in their homes. They too must go, he warns. Mother (Houda Echouafni) and Father (George Couyas) don’t want to believe him but when a shell lands in the night, very nearly hitting their house and leaving a huge crater in the field, they agree it’s best to pack their things.
The premise is not a bad one, but Khalil’s attempt to tell a story that is timeless and placeless is let down by shallow characters and a tensionless plot. For the play to work it is essential that we understand and care about the family put in front of us, but aside from a rare glimpse of something deeper, they appear as no more than silhouettes.
The casting is partly to blame. George Couyas and Houda Echouafni’s Father and Mother are simply too young to be parents to Loukia Pierides’ Daughter and too old to be children of Amira Ghazalla’s Grandmother. And while Couyas and Ghazalla occasionally succeed in bringing some naturalism to their roles, the same cannot be said for Echouafni and Pierides, who lightly hop between emotional states, never really persuading us they are anything but actors in a small central London theatre.
Paul Burgess’ design is simple but effective and gets cleverly around the potential difficulty of having half the scenes inside the family home and half of them in the woods. It is let down however by director Chris White’s decision to have the cast, when not on stage, sitting just outside the set in full view of the audience. What little illusion there is, is banished by this choice.