Ryan Craig's new play is nothing if not topical. Although neither 9/11 nor the Iraq war are mentioned specifically, and 7/7 only once indirectly, Craig conveys with dramatic intensity and a surprising amount of humour current religious and cultural conflicts in our uncertain world of terrorism and war on terror.
While the two plays at the National – Mike Leigh's domestically orientated Two Thousand Years and David Edgar's intellectually heavyweight Playing with Fire – deal with some of the same issues, What We Did to Weinstein brings them to life with much more visceral power.
The play begins with Josh, a young British Jew who has joined the Israeli army, being interrogated by an officer about what he did to a Palestinian terrorist suspect. As we move back and forth in time, and between West London and the West Bank, we gradually find out what happened and why.
The 'backstory' involves Josh's love/hate relationship with his liberal writer father Max, and his failed affair with Sara, a Jewish journalist critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, who is regarded as a traitor by her father Sam, Max's agent. Skilfully interwoven with their story are British Pakistani Tariq, an Islamic fundamentalist, and his Westernised sister Yasmin, plus a white racist yob, Brian.
Craig uses generational and family divides to explore diverse notions of ethnicity and identity in our multicultural society. He also shows how idealism can lead to extremism and how pragmatism can entail hypocrisy. Although somewhat schematic, the play avoids simplification of the issues by making real the dilemmas the characters feel. This is no cerebral exercise but full-blooded drama interspersed with some genuinely funny moments which relieve the tension.
Much credit for this should go to Tim Supple's fluid and streamlined direction, making the scenes dovetail and the themes interconnect. Josh Cohen is highly convincing as the angry and confused Josh, trying to work out who he is and his place in the world. There is a great vaudevillian double act between Harry Towb's Max and Leonard Fenton's Sam, while Miranda Pleasence strongly conveys Sara's personal and political dissatisfaction. This is truly compelling theatre.
- Neil Dowden