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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Beloved
Bush Theatre    Summer 2012

The TV cartoon show Family Guy recently had a cut-away gag of Abraham and Isaac coming back down the mountain as Isaac says 'Do you mind telling me what the [bleep] that was all about? 

Playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi offers a non-Biblical answer by imagining a modern-day Abraham, shepherd in an unnamed country. 

Having lost one son to a never-ending war, he has the impulse to sacrifice his younger boy, to somehow bring the elder back. At the last moment he is filled with love for the younger boy, releases him, and goes home to what he believes will be peace. 

But the boy grows up with the vague memory of that moment of terror, and feels his entire life shadowed by it. 

The play uses sheep and lambs as symbols – a pair of talking sheep play a choric function – and the son feel that undergoing the experience of a sheep has left him less of a human, and the only way to regain his humanity and manhood is to return to that mountain, reversing roles with his father. 

I haven't given away too much of the plot here – there are further complications and subtleties, and much of it is implicit in the opening scenes, even if not fully spelled out until later.

The question is what this new myth has to say – that childhood trauma can warp a life? that psychology and morality become very confused in a war zone? that humans have drifted too far from the rhythms of nature to be whole? that almost-blood requires blood as vengeance? 

Although running barely an hour, Zuabi's play tries to say all of these things and still tell a coherent story, and thus is less clear than it wants to be and also pretty heavy going. The Beloved earns considerable respect for its ambition, and the regretful conclusion that it doesn't fully achieve its goals. 

A production of the Palestinian theatre company ShiberHur, The Beloved is hosted by the Bush Theatre as part of the multi-venue World Stages London.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - The Beloved - Bush 2012   

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