With its topical subject matter and sharp dialogue, it’s easy to see why, having started at this venue’s ‘Vibrant Festival’ of new writing, Jeff Page’s play has graduated into a full production. It’s a shame that questionable decisions have resulted in underdeveloped potential.
Bev is a poetry professor whose latest work has provoked accusations of anti-Semitism. While this should provide plenty of debate, none of the issues around censorship, Zionism or social justice warriors gets much airing. Bev isn’t clear why comparing an Israeli soldier to a Nazi upsets people. Really? Why make her blunder so black and white? And, even if her position is indefensible, defending it poorly makes for bad drama.
The play focuses instead on Bev and her problems. Her father dies (a plot line that goes nowhere) and she’s an alcoholic with mental health issues. All rich material for Geraldine Somerville, who takes the part and does very well with it. It’s a brave move to make Bev so unsympathetic, but don’t her boozed-up delusions of grandeur also make it too tempting to just feel sorry for her – and then dismiss her opinions?
Bev’s interactions with others present further gripes. The intense relationship with her PA (do poets have PAs?) is clichéd and unconvincing, although Ulrika Krishnamurti tries her best with it all. Bev is interviewed, far too briefly, by possibly the worst journalist in the world, then has a heart-to-heart with a lighting technician at a poetry gig. Again, credit to Matt Mella and Nathaniel Wade in these parts, but both roles are too truncated.
The biggest frustration comes from glimpses of the dry wit within the text. There are some lovely acerbic observations on life in north London, leading up to an explosion from Bev – why all this fuss about a poem? My sympathies if you were thinking that all along. For whatever reason, director Manuel Bau stamps on any humour and the play is duller for this. Maybe the subject matter was deemed too serious for laughs? But, as Bev points out, artists should take risks, and Checkpoint Chana is puzzlingly timid all around.
Playing Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays until 20 March 2018
Photo by Samuel Kirkman