The past is on repeat in Omar El-Khairy’s new play about the prison system in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
It’s a play that tries to do a huge amount: comment on the Middle Eastern political situation; present a complicated family story; appeal to our hearts. But it fails to do any of those things.
In ‘The Keepers of Infinite Space’ Saeed is incarcerated for owning a bookshop and little else. He is held captive, beaten and has his soul broken in an Israeli prison.
The first half mainly features Saeed being viciously tortured by the prison guards. Then, in the short second half, the story kicks in and he begins to discover surprising truths about his upright property-developer father from fellow prisoners.
There are two nice performances from Edmund Kingsley as the innocent but increasingly conflicted Saeed and Hilton McRae as his wise, tired father. But their dialogue doesn’t convince and it’s hard to connect with either.
Philip Lindley’s hulking prison design allows Zoe Lafferty’s direction to maintain tension and pace. But really ‘The Keepers of Infinite Space’ could be a prison drama set anywhere in the world.
The situation in Palestine is incredibly complicated but in El-Khairy’s play it’s bluntly clear who the baddies are. It’s a pity the portrayal of the Israeli guards is so heavy handed Ð John Wark’s character, head of the prison, is calculating and violent with the rest of the guards not much better. If the writing had more nuance, it may have been easier to trust the piece a little more.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell
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Just so easy to get into, touching and not too long keeps entertaining and good cast overall. Would go again, and possible will go again, as this week its the last week for it.
I can only surmise that Ms Daisy Bowie-Sell has little knowledge of the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons if she feels that the depiction of the prison guards and their overseer lacks nuance. The brutal treatment meted out to Palestinians by the Israeli authorities is graphically realised in the play, as is the racism underlying it. The concept of collective punishment is also well addressed. The hopelessness of Saeed's situation is powerfully portrayed and one cannot fail to be affected by his fate - and, by definition, that of actual prisoners being held in Israeli gaols. The set reflected the situation of all Palestinians in Gaza and the Occupied Territories: namely the cages of the checkpoints that Palestinians have endlessly to negotiate and at which they are daily humiliated. Well done to the playwright, the cast and the Park Theatre for highlighting an inhumane system.
This is obviously not a play for simple enjoyment. Sadly the subject matter is all too true. The grim story of Saeed and two other prisoners held for long periods in an Israeli gaol and their torture is faithfully drawn. But I can say I was tremendously moved and gripped by it. The characters are well chosen and well developed by playwright by Omar El- Kairy. The characters were not at all simplistic. Saeed for example was a book seller and seemed to be imprisoned as a result of other members of his family, the Ethiopian Israeli Guard was shown to be highly conflicted before he was forced to be as thuggish as the other Israeli guards. The sheer relentlessness of the situation was driven home to us by effectively the story spanning the last sixty years of occupation and covering three generations. The core of the play was about how people can keep hope alive in the direst and most oppressive circumstances but also about how the three prisoners, learned all the time from each other and found their own ways of keeping hope alive. The group I came with expected to be so horrified we were anxious we wouldn't be able to deal with it. It was true the tension was always there and the pace was kept up but we were dealing with the lives of three men realistically and sympathetically portrayed from the outset. I loved the set and the ways the actors moved in it managing to show confinement and entrapment but also pockets of space to keep them sane. I thought the performances of the whole cast were excellent. Edmund Kingsley as Saeed showed us the horror he had to endure and the way he changed as a result of it. Philip Correia as the young lad brought such believable truthfulness to the part almost any sixteen year old kid would be able to empathize and Cornelius Macarthy gave us another dimension of the conflicts he faced as a black newcomer in Israeli society. I would recommend this play to anyone who doesn't know much about what is going on in Palestine as well as people already committed to Palestinian freedom. This is very much for people who want to see theatre exploring important issues whilst helping to illuminate.