Birthright, Vault Festival

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by Louis Train

Birthright comes out the gate distracted: a sex joke, some meta humour, accents. It stays distracted, too, so at least it’s consistent. By the end of the play, one gets the sense of half a dozen stories and motifs started and abondaned; it interrupts itself.

Joshua  and Becca have signed up for the Birthright programme, which allows young people with Jewish roots to travel to Israel for a free guided tour of the country. Joshua has gone to discover himself, Becca is going for spiritual reasons.

Birthright is a controversial programme: the educational component has often been criticised for misrepresenting or omitting important details of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the recreational part enjoys a noxious reputation among Israelis, who often feel they are expected to smile along as piss-drunk tourists loiter the streets.

But Birthright is conspicuously absent from Birthright. Almost as soon as Joshua and Becca arrive in Israel, they are separated from the group. There is no mention of the Israel-Palestine conflict, there are no parties. There is a series of accidental arson incidents, a chance encounter with a pipe-smoking Druze man, some marijuana, a street protest, and folk dancing. If you’re looking for a political play, or a meditation on modern Jewish or Israeli culture, this isn’t it.

The action in Birthright is entirely accidental and incohesive. Every scene could begin with ‘and then’: And then Joshua knocked over the candle and started a fire, And then they ran into some revellers on the street. At least three scenes begin with ‘Hey, what’s that over there?’ Nothing is connected, nothing feels necessary to the plot. And, indeed, the plot is paper thin. Why neither Joshua nor Becca thought to make a phone call, rather than run around terrified in a country where they don’t speak the language, is beyond explanation.

If the strength of Birthright isn’t in its message or in its plot (and I promise you, it’s not the acting), then what is the point? In its current iteration, this play has little to offer a viewer, but one gets a sense watching Aimee Bevan and David Samson closely, and listening to the occasional insightful line, that the piece might have potential after all. Creative purpose: that’s what it is. There is a point to be made, it’s just not clear. There is a story to tell, it’s just not the story they tell.

Birthright runs through 16 February.

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