We’ve seen it played out social media countless times over, a ‘celebrity’ makes a comment which the whole world seems to take offence at, spiralling out of control until a grovelling apology is played out for all to see. Jeff Page’s Checkpoint Chana, currently at the Finborough Theatre, examines this modern phenomenon in more detail using the Israel and Palestine conflict as the catalyst.
Instead of choosing the kind of celebrity we are most used to hearing these gaffs from, Page has chosen to make the central character a famous poet, Bev’s latest anthology ‘The Olive Oil Lamp’ contains the poem ‘Checkpoint Chana’ which has been lambasted for its use of anti-semitic language.
The poet doesn’t seem to grasp why so many people are upset, and is reluctant to apologise, or show remorse. It falls to long-suffering PA, Tamsin (Ulrika Krishnamurti) to strong-arm Bev in to repentance, bringing in journalist, and boyfriend David (Matt Mella) to write a positive piece.
Playing in repertoire, Checkpoint Chana, utilises the set of Returning to Haifa, and it works well. The North London flat looks suitable for a creative academic, with an assortment of plants and boxes surrounded by books strewn around the floor. While the later scenes in the arts centre make good use of the quirky in-the-round set up, allowing cast members to effectively sit in the audience for Bev’s performance.
Through various scenes the untidy jumble of books are slowly tidied into neat piles, perhaps to demonstrate that Bev’s own mess is being cleared up, though that doesn’t necessarily come through in the script. There are veiled references to subplots but they are never fully explored. Bev has a drink problem, her father is dying, and she clearly has a promiscuous side, but each of these are only mentioned briefly before moving to the next exchange of dialogue.
At the arts centre, the character of Michael (Nathaniel Wade) is introduced, it’s interesting to see an outsider’s perspective, but the character is probably under-used, only really serving to demonstrate Bev’s reliance on Tamsin, something already well-established.
Geraldine Somerville does give a powerful performance as the execrated poet, portraying the inner torment through physicality and movement. While perfectly enjoyable, with the odd humorous moment, Checkpoint Chana always feels like it’s missing the last piece of the jigsaw, and there’s a part of the story we’re not being told.