In Paul Kember’s 1980 Royal Court comedy-drama Not Quite Jerusalem, four 20-something Britons arrive on a kibbutz – seen at the time as a romantic escape from dreary Thatcher-era Britain – with no idea of what they want to get out of their experience at this ‘socialist Butlins’ with hard labour in sweltering heat.
The British abroad tends to be a gruesome spectacle. Although Peter Kavanagh’s production succeeds in shocking with its forthrightness, it isn’t particularly involving due to the slapdash nature of most of the characterisation.
The grotesquely laddish behaviour of future Question Time trolls Pete and Dave (Ronnie Yorke and Joe McArdle) is all too recognisable but the misogynistic bullying of the troubled and over-eager Carrie (Miranda Braun) as comic relief (to an extent) has dated badly.
The production’s undoubted highlight and source of energy is Ailsa Joy’s captivating performance as Israeli supervisor Gila, with her idiosyncratic syntax and ultra-blunt manner. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to understand what she sees in contemptuous Cambridge dropout Mike (Ryan Whittle).
It’s risky to stage the opening scene in soporific half light. Ceci Calf’s naturalistic design represents the kibbutz as an austere place with few creature comforts.
Kember’s writing is at its best when showing how xenophobia and self-loathing are two sides of the same coin, as seen in the disastrous attempt to put on a show in the kibbutz. One can hardly blame the kibbutzniks deeming volunteers more of a nuisance than a help and hope they introduce a more stringent vetting process.