Never trust a man wearing a bow tie, I always say. One of my other maxims in life is never to discuss the Middle East. I do however occasionally watch plays about the Middle East, and I'm glad I chose this sharply written three-hander at the Finborough, which regularly proves that a tiny over-the-pub theatre space is no bar to dramatic excellence.
This is the third three-hander I've seen in the last week, after Mies Julie and Old Times. Facts, written by Canadian playwright Arhur Milner, is set in a West Bank interrogation room where an Israeli and a Palestinian detective meet to investigate the unsolved murder of an American archaeologist. It starts with banter which sounds just a little bit too genteel and academic; I don't mix too much with policemen, but this pair sounded to me more like a couple of Oxford dons. But the dialogue crackles, and the playwright adroitly suggests how any conversation between an Israel and a Palestinian, even when they respect each other, walks on eggshells.
The play really gets cracking when the third character comes on stage, a fanatical Jewish settler who is the prime suspect for the murder. The real conflict that lies under the surface is not the Israeli-Palestinian divide but the bitter antagonism between the secular detective and the religious zealot. The story has elements of a police procedural, but the crime isn't solved, and the explosive ending doesn't quite work. However, the directing by Caitlin McLeod is excellent and so are the performances by Philip Arditti, Michael Feast and Paul Rattray. Milner's dialogue crackles with tension in the confrontation between Danny the settler and Yossi the Israeli detective, though by this stage of the play Khalid the Palestinian cop has found himself rather on the sidelines of the action. The play explores the conflict between historical myth and historical facts, and between the detectives' need to rely on evidence and their gut feelings.