I am an ignorant Gentile. I frequently flip past the world section of the newspaper when, as seems to be the case nearly every day now, there are yet more reports about yet more suicide bombs, more failed talks, more bloodshed in the Middle East. I do not begin to comprehend the depth of such passions and their apparent futility frustrates and terrifies me.
British playwright David Hare - also a Gentile, but with a Jewish wife - evidently shares my frustration and terror, though it is his much more considerable efforts to at least try to make sense of the situation that informs this one-man show, which he also performs, and that inspires him to remount it now, four years after making his stage acting debut in its first West End outing.
It was in 1997 that the 50-year-old playwright decided to at last visit Israel, the then 50-year-old state which was and is, always, "first and foremost a cause; the cause being a patch of land". During that visit, he met with people on all sides of the debate (and, I for one, didn't realise there were so many sides): elder statesmen, right and left-wing politicians of every stripe, Jewish settlers, displaced Palestinians and, understandably, various theatre bods. And it is Hare's recounting of these experiences, these people and their views as well as his own reactions to them that comprise his solo show.
Hare is no actor, of course. From the moment he walks out onto Ian MacNeil's bareboards stage, he appears awkward - slightly slumped, his feet firmly planted for much of the time, his arms hung unnaturally still. And he makes no attempt to "become" the characters he encounters, as an actor would; there's no great catalogue of accents or poses to match the array of disturbing attitudes.
None of which is meant to be criticism. Hare demonstrates tremendous bravery in undertaking this task and, with the assistance of director Stephen Daldry, his performance is both animated and elevated by the pace and power of his delivery, by his obvious concern, by his sensitive intellect and, most of all, by his own words.
At one point, Hare shares a lament with a Palestinian writer: "If only a play could be half-play, half-poem!" I would argue that, with this exhilarating and thought-provoking piece - full of love and hate, stones and ideas, people and places, history and politics - he has very nearly achieved that and more. In my mind, Via Dolorosa is part play, part poetry, part lecture, part sermon, part meditation - and the best, most rewarding, most illuminating of each.
Ultimately, it may have no impact on the dire situation in the Middle East, but it had a huge impact on me.
- Terri Paddock