May 31, 2012 5:16 pm

The Beloved, Bush Theatre, London

Amir Nizar Zuabi’s adaptation of the story of Abraham and Isaac has resonances in today’s Middle East conflict
Makram J. Khoury as Abraham in ‘The Beloved’©Keith Pattison

Makram J. Khoury as Abraham in ‘The Beloved’

This version of the story of Abraham and Isaac is not about God’s compact. It focuses entirely on man; his zeal, which leads him to undertake the sacrificial trip to the mountain in the first place, and in particular the psychological legacy of the event on members of the family.

Abraham is the only named character in Amir Nizar Zuabi’s version, the others being the Son (portrayed both as a young boy immediately after the event and in manhood some time later), the Son’s wife in later years and his mother. At intervals, a couple of sheep (the Wise Ram and the Young Lamb) also pop up to offer commentaries, sometimes with unexpected humour. They even swing on to the stage suspended from meat hooks at one point, ready to be slaughtered and carved by the Son in his later career.

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But this is not the only aspect in which the Son’s path through life has been shaped by his near-sacrifice on Mount Moriah (or, to Arabs and/or Muslims, Marwah). We see him assault his pregnant wife and drive her away, rather than risk bringing a son into a world where a father could do such things, just as earlier we have seen his mother flee the family home with the boy rather than remain around such a man as Abraham. In little more than an hour, Zuabi’s adaptation and staging examine the viewpoints and experiences of mother, son and finally Abraham himself.

It is natural to interpret this in the light of the contemporary world from which Zuabi’s ShiberHur company comes in Palestine (this is the company’s third visit to London but, under the auspices of World Stages London, its first English-language production here). Abraham seems to personify fervent believers on either side of the Middle Eastern conflict: those who listen to voices in their heads, rather than to those around them, whom they supposedly love; the others, but in particular the Son, are left to live with the unconsidered consequences of such ardour.

Makram J. Khoury is as dignified as ever, but does not thereby make his Abraham sympathetic; Rivka Neumann and Rami Heuberger show that it is as much as the Mother and Son can do simply to carry on in any kind of life.

4 stars

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

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