Review: Checkpoint Chana
Image: Finborough Theatre
Ulrika Krishnamurti - Tamsin
Matt Mella - David
Geraldine Somerville - Bev
Nathaniel Wade - Michael
“We have to make sure we make the right choices.
If we do, we're ok and you'll have a career, be someone who is employable and commissionable.
Get it wrong and it's like all over.”
Poet Bev Hemmings is in the eye of a storm after she publishes a poem that the world seems to believe is anti-Semitic.
She's convinced she's innocent, but everyone else - including her PA, Tamsin - wants her to apologise.
A press interview is planned to begin her public rehabilitation, but Bev's dying father, erratic behaviour and tendency to drink make her public contrition a complex process.
Checkpoint Chana examines the point where pro-Palestinian criticism of the government of Israel and anti-Semitism blur.
Originally seen as a staged reading as part of Vibrant 2017 - A Festival of Finborough Playwrights, the world premiere of Checkpoint Chana.
The main character in this thought-provoking work by Jeff Page is a poet.
Bev has recently had a book of her poetry published which has caused furore because of a reference to Nazis in one of her poems, describing a checkpoint in Israel, which has been widely taken to be anti-semitic.
Her personal assistant, Tamsin, is working to make amends by issuing an apology on social media which looks like it might resolve the issue and leave Bev clinging on to her academic job and restore (at least to some extent) her reputation as a poet.
Bev's work does have political overtones and she obviously harbours left-wing sympathies.
And that makes it hard not to watch this play without concluding that there are similarities in the situation Bev faces and other real-life cases, most notably, perhaps, that of Ken Livingstone who was suspended from the Labour party in 2016 for bringing it into disrepute after his comments about Hitler and Zionism.
On the widest level, Jeff Page's play questions what we can and cannot say publicly, either verbally or in print.
That, of course, is a highly relevant and important issue that rightly deserves to be heard and discussed, especially in the context of the enormous influence and immediacy of social media.
In also needs to be considered within the bounds of freedom of expression and the right to free speech.
But the central issue gets clouded a little here because of Bev's personality and her career and personal situation.
Bev's best days as a poet seem to be behind her and she struggles (rather ineffectually) to control her drinking.
On top of that, she is psychologically and emotionally vulnerable because of her father's death.
That all makes for more interesting drama and ramps up the tension in the latter section of the piece, whilst also introducing other vital considerations, especially the hugely negative effects that public utterances have on the everyday lives of ordinary people.
But we might have seen things differently if Geraldine Somerville's well-described Bev had been a poet 'on the up' and not facing personal crises, even if the same outcome prevailed.
In fact, there may well have been more potency in that scenario.
Even so, there's more than enough intellectual meat to consider in Manuel Bau's worthy and provocative production, which leaves us wondering how best to reconcile the right to freedom of expression and effective debate, with the responsibility to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of our fellow human beings.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Finborough Theatre
Our show listing for Checkpoint Chana
Read our reviews' policy