NOT QUITE JERUSALEM at Earl's Court Finborough Theatre
Ryan Whittle and Alisa Joy as Mike and Gila: photo Kirsten McTernan

Some 40 years after it first played at London's Royal Court theatre in 1980, Paul Kember's Not Quite Jerusalem is revived at London's Finborough Theatre. At a period of social unrest in England, where Maggie Thatcher was in power and inflation stood at 17%, where trade unions were up in arms, this was a time of immense discontent amid the threat of rising privatisation. It is at this time where four English volunteers, Dave, Pete, Mike and Carrie up sticks for a 'holiday' of sunshine, sex and bagels in an Israeli Kibbutz. 

Speaking from first hand experience, I too have worked on a kibbutz and it is jolly hard graft. These four volunteers soon discovered that what they thought would be a sun filled holiday was in reality sweltering work in temperatures hitting over 100 degrees in the Negev communal farm where everybody is expected to pull their weight for the good of the community.

There are many reasons why people decide to take time out for this experience. At it s point of inception, kibbutzim were the product of early settlers who worked the land in their communal agricultural settlements, sharing everything as a member of a collective. In essence they were owned by the settlers and based on the principle of socialism, where decisions were made by those who worked there. Jobs were rotated, everything was shared. The children lived in children's houses and met their parents for only a few hours each day. Meals were eaten together in the communal dining hall. This was socialism in practice and involved workers from all sectors of society, including Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who retired to a kibbutz to join the pioneers who laboured to develop the arid land of the Negev.

Now the kibbutzim have adapted in line with modern times, diversifying and including manufacturing and guest houses. Tourists and visitors may stay there and many young people will embark on a gap year to find themselves and to journey through the country. Nevertheless, the premise still holds. If staying in a kibbutz, other than a paying guest, there are certain protocols including a willingness to share the workload and to behave respectfully. Unfortunately two of the volunteers were not so inclined and reached a depth of depravity in their 'mooning' activity during a Volunteers' Day event.

The English volunteers have not embraced or endeared themselves to the life on the kibbutz. Tough, hardworking kibbutzniks Gila and Ami are pure sabra, with an intolerance of their lack of respect and unwillingness to give, only taking from the experience. Their motives were personal and their understanding of the kibbutz ethos was non existent. Pete and Dave alienated themselves from the start with their disparaging comments which would be construed as anti semitic and thus deplorable, Carrie cannot relate to the English volunteers or to her Israeli mentors and is of a highly nervous disposition and Mike, whilst experiencing difficulties in commitment appears somewhat indolent and self indulgent. In all, a strong contrast to their mentors.

And yet, as the play progresses, layers are removed and we learn more about each character as they develop. This is down to many factors, not least of which is the skilled penmanship of writer Paul Kember who won the prestigious Evening Standard Award for Most Promising New Writer with this, his first play. Complemented by the direction of Peter Kavanagh and the effective staging of designer Ceci Calf, the play takes on a vitality of its own.

There, in the small space of the Finborough Theatre, we are able to share the experience of their journey. Yes, there are moments when we laugh, moments when we are concerned and points of disgust at actions of depravity but there are also moments of high intensity and at its close the passion of both Gila and Ami moved me to tears.

A play in two acts, performed with conviction by its cast of Joe McArdle, Ryan Whittle, Miranda Braum, Ronnie Yorka, Russell Bentley and Alisa Joy, Not Quite Jerusalem has pulled it off. It may be more set in the 1980s but still manages to resonate today.


Finborough Theatre:  118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED.
Playing until Saturday 28 March 2020
Booking: office 01223 357851
Tues-Sat evenings 7.30 pm, Sat/Sun matinees 3 pm.

Running time: two and a half hours with a short interval.