Star-crossed lovers take us to the dark heart of Israel and Palestine’s twisted history in this moving performance.
Performed in the round at Islington venue The Pleasance’s smallest space, the staging is practically non-existent; except for the video montage that proves the only companion to three actors on stage, at various highly-charged intervals.
Nothing more is needed, though. From the very first scene, the sparkling dialogue of these characters — the electricity between them, heightened by the simplicity of the setting — hooks you in.
Before the play begins, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride. There is an air of anticipation as we wait in this small room, listening to what sounds like modern Arabic music (or is it Israeli, too?) and watching projected footage that spans, like the play, from the second Intifada in 2002, to May 2018, when the US Embassy was opened in Jerusalem.
What you do not expect is quite the amount of humanity and humour that Jordan has thrown into this explosive, intoxicating mix. It pulsates with love, passion and hope, pulled from the darkest of spaces.
The action begins in a stark Israeli interrogation room in Al-Jalame Prison, as Ali, frightened to death and threatening to brim over with contained anger, is accused of rioting and ‘throwing stones with the intention of hurting Israeli citizens.’
But the massive twist here is that Ali’s ‘lawyer’ is actually Dahlia, his old girlfriend. A friend from school days who became the love of his life — but it was never meant to be.
Peppered with Israeli Hebrew and Palestinian Arabic snatches of conversation, you really feel as if you’ve been transported to the midst of this conflict.
From here on, we move between the present day — as Dahlia attempts to maintain a professional distance, but is inevitably pulled in Ali’s direction — to flashbacks of the old days when they were discovering each other: swapping Hebrew and Muslim recipes, meeting in secret, and teaching each other swear words from the ‘other side’.
These moments are stunningly played. One funny yet equally poignant scene is when Ali, wide-eyed, tells Dahlia he wants to be just like ‘Gene Kelly’: ‘He is free! He could run up this wall and jump over it, if he wants!’
Dahlia’s brother Asher, played by Kai Spellman, brusquely reminds Dahlia, in his conscription army get-up, that she and Ali can never be (‘The community will disown you, Dahlia…)’. But the true stars here are Waj Ali and Deli Segal: their passionate connection is palpable. Their journey makes you smile then, just as quickly, rips your heart out.
Fast-forward to the present day, and there is no happy ending in sight. Will Ali be freed after trial?
All is not as is seems, and Ali and Dahlia face the painful realisation that they can never go back to being those innocent teenagers, who dreamed of running away to the seaside together.
Too much water and too much blood has run under the bridge. It is a stark reminder that in Gaza, innocence is lost and found every single day. Let us hope there are couples out there for whom the fairy-tale did come true. But not here.
If you don’t walk away from this feeling profoundly moved, you might just be made of stone.
Ali and Dahlia runs at the Pleasance Theatre until April 14. Info and tickets here.
Words by Shelley Spadoni
Also published on Medium.