Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Returning to Haifa review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘stirs the senses’

Scene from Returning to Haifa at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander Scene from Returning to Haifa at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander

The English language stage adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa had a troubled birth. First commissioned by the Public Theater in New York, it was subsequently abandoned thanks to disquiet amongst board members. Its eventual world premiere at the Finborough Theatre, directed by Caitlin McLeod, stirs the senses even whilst lacking clarity.

Said (Ammar Haj Ahmad) and Safiyya (Myriam Acharki) decide to visit the home in Haifa they were forced to flee in 1948. The current occupant is an elderly Jewish lady, Miriam (Marlene Sidaway) and her grown son, Dov (Ethan Kai). It soon turns out it’s not only the property the Palestinian couple can lay a claim to.

Set designer Rosie Elnile (winner of The Stage Debut Award) has reconfigured the space in-the-round, with the audience seated within the same homely living room as the characters. Saturated by ochre, orange and dark peach, the setting pulses with claustrophobic heat.

Kanafani’s story presents a nuanced and balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drawing attention to the death of Miriam’s father in Auschwitz along with the plight of Said and Safiyya. Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace’s adaptation never quite achieves the complexity and delicacy it strives for, feeling overly expository in some parts and hard to follow in others.

Instead, McLeod’s production captures some of the emotion of the situation. The frustration of participating in futile and circular arguments, and – through Acharki’s intense silences – the sorrow of being forced to witness a situation engineered by forces out of your control.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Sensitive and sensory staging of Ghassan Kanafani’s Palestinian novella