Reviewed – 5th March 2018
“Somerville’s command of the stage is exemplary and brings an added intensity to an already complex terrain”
Stepping into the intimate and distinguished Finborough Theatre, we are immediately transported to the milieu of poet Bev Hemmings, under public scrutiny for an apparently anti-Semitic comparison in a recent poem. Jeff Page’s ‘Checkpoint Chana’ not only questions the grey area between pro-Palestinian criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism but also manages to emphasise the creative questions of self-expression and individual interpretation within sensitive boundaries.
Before the play begins, Daisy Blower’s artfully designed room, scattered with carefully selected props and evocative seventies music do more than simply set the scene; the details cleverly hint at the poet’s past and paint a picture of the seemingly carefree, bohemian life she leads. The lighting (Jamie Platt), subtly used throughout the play to intensify but not intrude, adds a warm, comfortable glow.
Out of this evolves the agony of being misunderstood and fear of losing everything, with a brilliant performance by Geraldine Somerville as Bev, whose emotions sway from disbelief to anger, frustration and resignation, deepened by the guilty grief over her dying father. Her command of the stage is exemplary and brings an added intensity to an already complex terrain. Ulrika Krishnamurti (Tamsin) portrays Bev’s PA who has the difficult job of persuading her to apologise as well as managing her erratic behaviour. However, her youth and the strength of her personality show as nervous earnestness which consequently depicts a detached working relationship, lacking plausible closeness, rather than a strong, familiar bond built up over the years. David, played by Matt Mella, the journalist prepared to help with the recovery of Bev’s reputation, surprises us with his twists of character and a moving account of painful memories. Nathaniel Wade is excellent as Michael, establishing an identity from the moment he appears, and building a rapport with the poet from very little interaction.
The script is an interesting comment on tiptoeing around political correctness by doing just that. With a pointedly politically-correct cast it lays down the various opinions as a debate with no conclusion, as opposed to a standpoint. Apart from a few unneeded jokes the drama works well as layers of complication thicken the argument. Director, Manuel Bau, concentrates on the trauma Bev is going through, leaving the changes of scene as subtle as possible and showing how one wrong step could turn her world about.
Thoughtful writing, a beautifully detailed set and some powerful performances make this a compelling production intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Samuel Kirkman
Finborough Theatre until 20th March