Magazine article The Spectator

Voyage of Discovery

Magazine article The Spectator

Voyage of Discovery

Article excerpt

Via Dolorosa (Duchess) Sleuth

(Apollo)

If you're a theatre buff, there's a frisson of pleasure to be had from seeing David Hare perform Via Dolorosa, his one-man play about visiting the Middle East. Hare is a fairly impressive figure in the flesh: everything about him conveys a kind of writerly intelligence. I hesitate to use the word 'glamorous' - he lacks Tom Stoppard's movie-star good looks - but he has the whiff of someone who's used to moving in the very highest circles. If I saw him standing on the other side of a room at a party, I'd be fairly confident that I'd arrived.

This impression is confirmed when he starts to describe his voyage of discovery. As soon as he lands in Tel Aviv, he's met by a man from the Foreign Office and when he ventures into the West Bank he's driven around by an Israeli guide. Indeed, there's scarcely a moment during his trip when he isn't accompanied by some official or other. It's as though he's a visiting head of state. He never explains why he's being given this red-carpet treatment - was the trip arranged by the British Council? and this, in turn, adds to the sense that he's completely used to this level of pampering. I'm sure this isn't what David Hare intended, but the main revelation of Via Dolorosa is just how privileged the life of a famous British intellectual is. If lain Duncan Smith visited Israel, I don't suppose he'd be granted anything like this level of access.

As a one-man play, Via Dolorosa works quite well. It's presented as a travelogue and Hare is careful to introduce us to the colourful cast of characters he meets along the way. What holds your interest are the clever observations Hare is continually making. It's like sitting on the shoulder of an extremely intelligent, world-weary traveller as he makes his way through one of the most fascinating landscapes in the world.

However, as a meditation on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, Via Dolorosa is less successful. Hare bends over backwards to be even-handed, refusing to blame any one group in particular, but his sympathy for the Palestinians inevitably seeps through. Hare is married to the fashion designer Nicole Farhi, a secular Jew, and he can't seem to get his head around the fanaticism of the religious Jews he encounters on the West Bank. He's deeply suspicious of their passion and their certainty, seeing it as symptomatic of their disenchantment with modernity. …

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