Facts, Finborough Theatre, London

“Americans love facts,” says the Israeli detective in this short, sharp play by Arthur Milner. So when an American professor of archaeology is killed while working on the West Bank, the detective, Yossi, and his Palestinian counterpart, Khalid, must join forces to establish some facts. But facts are not easy to come by here, and even harder to interpret. Why was the academic killed? Was it personal or professional rivalry? Did he uncover corrupt dealings? Or was it that his work itself was incendiary, throwing Biblical history into doubt, with profound implications for Jewish settlers using the Biblical account as a basis for claims to the land?

Milner’s play, in a taut and volatile production by Caitlin McLeod, proves gripping. The two detectives home in on Danny, a settler who had both motive and opportunity for the crime and whose explanation of his conduct at the time of the murder is dubious. But they can’t prove anything. And as the three – the exasperated secular Jewish Israeli, the obstinately devout settler and the wearily realistic Palestinian – dig away at the investigation, Milner delves into the historical, political and religious background. The play never leaves the modest confines of the interrogation room, with its plastic chairs, water cooler and defective fan, but the current grievous tensions – and with them years upon years of conflict – press into the room. The tiny space becomes a pressure cooker.

Milner himself is Canadian, the son of Jewish refugees from Poland. One senses his despair at the continuing violence most keenly perhaps in the figure of Yossi, who is repelled by Danny’s veneration of Baruch Goldstein (the Jewish extremist who perpetrated the Caves of the Patriarch massacre in 1994). But Milner also shows how impossible it is to hold an objective view in the situation and how the highly charged dispute over what happened in this particular circumstance reflects the larger context. Facts are hard to establish, open to interpretation and are not the final arbiter in any case. Ironically it is Khalid who counsels against charging Danny without substantial evidence, arguing that you can’t charge people simply because you don’t like them.

The fine cast of three keep the focus tight and the tension high: Philip Arditti’s cool, contained Khalid contrasts nicely with Michael Feast’s wiry, impassioned Yossi and Paul Rattray’s stubborn, supercilious Danny. It’s a powerful piece that digs deep and suggests that greater humanity might serve us better than fighting over facts.


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