Returning to Haifa at Finborough Theatre
Returning to Haifa, Ghassan Kanafani’s novella about the fallout from the 1948 Nakba – and the scars it traced upon the lives of those who experienced it – has been adapted for the stage by Naomi Wallace and Ismail Khalidi. The world premiere of the play, after its cancellation in New York, explores the imprint that geopolitical conflict leaves upon individuals.
The work begins by interrupting middle-aged couple Said and Safiyya, in their home, as they discuss returning to the town they fled from now that the borders have been reopened for the first time in years. A curtain hangs between them as they talk, a visual representation of the schism between their past and present. Rosie Elnile’s ingenious set design perfectly actualises the borders that conflict drives through the lives of the characters.
Performed in a round, Caitlin McLeod imaginatively directs the actors through the space. In the final scenes Said and Safiyya stand across from their son – now an Israeli soldier – and his adopted mother – a Polish emigre who fled the Holocaust –, both of whom now inhabit the former house of the couple. The contested space drives a physical wedge between them as they are unable to reconcile their histories. As they face one another, emotional distance is represented through physical separation, and the lines between past and present become entrenched, clearly demarcating the two sides in the conflict.
A small venue, the Finborough perfectly presents the uncomfortable intimacy that resides between the characters. The trauma of war has touched all of them; Miriam recounts how her own experience in the Holocaust impacted on her decision to stay and raise the child. The adaptation demonstrates the control power and pain exert over individual lives.
The language is rich in symbolism and poetry, which feels convoluted at times; however, this also works as a tool to highlight the complexity of the subject matter. The audience is left with just a glimpse of the personal cost of a complicated conflict. An engaging tale in its own right, Returning to Haifa leaves you wondering how many more individual stories are left untold.
Photo: Scott Rylander
Returning to Haifa is at Finborough Theatre from 27th February until 24th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch playwrights Ismail Khaladi and Naomi Wallace discuss the play here: