Escaping a sun-drenched London for an early evening dose of magic realism is not an obvious choice. A night sinking cider outside was rather more appealing than sitting in a dark room. However, excellently, The Beloved lasts only seventy minutes; meaning that after the production you can enjoy the Bush Theatre’s lovely new beer garden. The best of both worlds: a metaphysical re-imagining of the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, and then alcohol.
Focussing on a sheep farm located in the war-torn borderlands, The Beloved by Amir Nizar Zuabi, is brought to the stage by Palestine’s ShiberHur theatre company as part of the World Stages London. The cast includes actors from both Palestine and Israel, the plot politically charged: an ancient religious parable re-imagined by both sides of the contemporary religious battleground.
Sheep’s wool adorns the sunken ceiling and spirits glide around the stage as a family recoils from a father and son’s trip to the mountains. It becomes clear that the trip has altered the characters’ worlds — splintering their lives. The rest of the piece shows everyone grappling with the shards of their new existence: trying to make sense of what happened and why.
The writing paints a haunting portrait of how one decision ripples out through people and decades, using two spirit characters (portrayed as sheep) to link humanity with the supernatural. It is a well-crafted production, punctuated by some strong performances, especially Rami Heuberger as the frenzied and ruined son of Abraham. His scenes with his wife, played by Sivan Sasson, add both vitality and catastrophe to the tale: exploring fully the after effects of his ill-fated trip to the mountains as a child.
The production rises to a disturbing climax — visceral and raw — with the family colliding once more. Brimming with angst and tragedy The Beloved offers an interesting insight into this ancient story of sacrifice and desperation. Rich in texture, the play is a homage to the art of storytelling – drifting beautifully between flawed humanity and prophetic sheep.
The Beloved runs at Bush Theatre, 7 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LJ until 9 June. Go to the Bush Theatre website for further information. The play is part of World Stages London — an unprecedented collaboration between eight London theatres and 12 UK and international co-producers that celebrates the exhilarating cosmopolitan diversity across the capital. Photograph by Keith Pattinson.