Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Promise, Orange Tree Theatre

Review: The Promise, Orange Tree Theatre

Published in Time Out, 26.02.2010

On 17th November 1917 – long before the state of Israel was established – the British Government effectively promised Palestine as “a national home for Jewish people” through the Balfour Declaration. In The Promise, Ben Brown tracks the Zionist revolution behind it as led by Herbert Samuel, the first practicing Jew in parliament, and its forceful opposition by Edwin Montagu, his cousin and fellow MP.

There is a riveting cabinet drama within Brown’s script, but at present it cries out for a good whittle. At its best, it reminds one of Peter Morgan’s vibrant historical speculations without the reliance on pop culture. However, Brown lacks Morgan’s delicacy in eliding public actions and private lives: the two strands shoulder-barge where they ought to sashay.

There’s no doubting the play’s direct relevancy (though director Alan Strachan takes no chances, beginning with an assault of contemporary soundbites) but Brown draws several other smart parallels, particularly England’s “historic role of civilizer of the backwards country” and the suggestion that history is shaped by the personal whims of a select few.

Nicholas Asbury’s Montagu is forceful, though a touch over-gnarled; Christopher Ravenscroft is a gentle, crease-cheeked Asquith and, as Balfour, Oliver Ford-Davies gives a performance of masterly concision. Sadly, that quality evades both set changes and script alike.

Photograph: Tristram Kenton

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