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Checkpoint Chana review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a thoughtful character study’

Geraldine Somerville in Checkpoint Chana at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Samuel Kirkman Geraldine Somerville in Checkpoint Chana at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Samuel Kirkman

Accused of anti-Semitism, successful poet Bev unravels in the midst of a social media storm in Checkpoint Chana, a sharply relevant but surprisingly low-stakes character sketch from emerging playwright Jeff Page.

Despite its sensitive subject matter, and despite the frustrated anger simmering under the text, the production feels arch and tentative at times. If director Manuel Bau lets the pace flag too often, he nonetheless creates a sense of almost invasive intimacy with a smart central staging, giving the poet no privacy as she grapples with private grief and public pillorying.

Decorated throughout in vivid mustard yellow, the set – by Daisy Blower – strikingly evokes the late 1970s period Bev remains nostalgically trapped in, suggesting the sensibilities of a past era clashing with the performative political engagement of our own. Jamie Platt’s lighting bathes this already garish space in a wash of warm honey, which fades into muggy half light between scenes, as Bev paces, crawls, and repeatedly collapses in exhausted self-recrimination.

Returning to the stage after an extensive run of film and television roles, Geraldine Somerville brings out all of Bev’s complexities and contradictions. Her performance is by turns fragile and febrile, arrogant and self-destructive, as spiky and brittle as a sea urchin.

Ulrika Krishnamurti is believable as her personal assistant Tamsin, loyal but pragmatic enough to recognise that she’s steering a sinking ship. Nathaniel Wade, meanwhile, gets little to do as an arts centre employee, but manages to inject both humour and humanity into the briefly-appearing part.

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Flawed but thoughtful character study exploring sensitive political territory