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by on 2 December 2022

Absorbing and Powerful


by Julia Pascal

Pascal Theatre Company at the Finborough Theatre, Earl’s Court until 21st December

Review by Harry Zimmerman

It was at 12.37 pm on 22nd July 1946 that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed.  Ninety-one people were killed, and forty-six wounded.  The bombing was carried out by right wing Zionists, targeting the headquarters of the British forces in Palestine.

This event is the culmination of a perfectly crafted and gripping narrative that intertwines the 20th century nationalist struggles of Irish and Jewish nationalism with a visceral love story.  The result is an absorbing and powerful piece of theatre.

The events leading up to the 12.37 attack begin in 1935, in Dublin, where two Irish Jewish brothers, Paul and Cecil Green, leave their lives for a new start in England.   We follow their lives and their loves over the next twenty-one years, from the battles against antisemitism on the streets of East London, via the outbreak of the Second World War, to the traumas and strains of the creation of the state of Israel.  Underpinning this broad historical sweep is a series of relationships, between the brothers themselves, and, crucially, their love for Eileen O’Reilly and Rina Goldberg, all which frames and humanises the factual thrust of the dramatic narrative.

This is an ensemble piece and, as such, will stand or fall by the quality and versatility of the actors, and the skill with which they interact to create the many individual vignettes which power the story along.  Here, we are in very safe hands.  The five-member cast are uniformly excellent and rise effortlessly to the challenge of creating a series of scenes which are believable, occasionally humorous, sometimes moving, but always engaging.  This togetherness is subliminally accentuated by the cast always remaining on stage, quietly standing, sitting, and observing, even in those scenes where they were not participating.

Alex Cartuson and Eoin O’Dubhghaill deliver powerful and utterly believable portrayals of brothers Paul and Cecil, with the mesmerising Lisa O’Connor as Eileen and Rina, captivating the hearts of the brothers at various stages of their journey.  Ruth Lass and Danaan McAteer deliver a series of memorable and beautifully observed characterisations in the other female-male roles, displaying their vocal and physical dexterity to great effect at all times.

There are a large number of transitions in the play, and these are generally very well executed, often using the medium of singing or dance. 

The Finborough Theatre is an intimate venue, with a small playing area perfect for this type of emotionally charged production.  The cast use this space very skilfully, with appropriate use of props and lighting changes to transport the audience from Dublin, via the gloom of 1930s London, to the brightness of a Jerusalem summer.  Some decluttering would be possible without detracting from the overall effect.  For example, I found myself wondering why there were so many ladders littering the set when they were hardly used.

There might also be a case made for tightening up some of the transitions by reducing the length of the music and dance interludes, thereby delivering a 100-minute or so production without the need for an interval.  The ebb and flow of 12.37 ’s narrative has an inherent powerful motive force, which the presence of an interval dilutes, and takes a little while to rekindle in the second act. 

However, these are minor issues.  The Finborough Theatre audience was treated to an invigorating, fast paced evocation of a now largely forgotten event from Irish, British, and Jewish history that always retains humanity and emotion at its core.  A remarkable achievement.

12.37 is a highly recommended production which weaves its spell effectively and memorably.  It will stay with you long after you have left the theatre. 

Harry Zimmerman, December 2022

Photography by Yaron Lapid

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