The Beloved, Bush Theatre, London


Click to follow

The Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac has been turned into many an artistic mediation on how the younger generation may suffer and be sacrificed for the sins of authority-worshipping fathers.

One thinks of how Wilfred Owen harnessed it as a devastating image of the infanticidal generals in the Great War. In Owen's poem “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”, the angel intervenes with the order to offer up the Ram of Pride instead: “But the old man would not so, but slew his son/And half the seed of Europe, one by one”.

Now, in The Beloved, a deep and haunting new twist has been given to the tale by author/director Amir Nizar Zuabi and his excellent Palestinian theatre company, ShiberHur. Played on an elemental kitchen set that is overhung by a billowing canopy of fleece, there is both a timeless quality and a flavour of the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict to a show that also has witty magical-realist properties. The piece opens with the return from the mountain of Abraham (a wonderfully rattled and defensive Makram J Khoury) and young Isaac, played by Jonatan Bukshpan as a little boy driven in on himself, not just by the trauma of what has happened but by the injunction to remain silent about it to his mother and by furious paternal denials when he challenges his father about his actions.

Zuabi has had the original notion of following through on the long-term effects on the man Isaac (a charismatically troubled Rami Heuberger), who so dreads having a son of his own that he frantically beats up his pregnant partner. As a comic chorus to all this, there's pair of talking ruminants, the Wise Ram and Young Lamb (Taher Najib and Samaa Wakeem in fleecy-fringed parkas), who reflect on how sheep led mankind until mankind went off track and invented knives whereupon “our relationship deteriorated”.

Zuabi's dialogue is capable of great lyrical intensity, such as when the older Isaac recalls opening his mouth to beg for mercy and “a lamb climbed in... into my cells, through every pore”. Why his father subjected him to that ordeal remains tantalisingly in dispute but has to do with the death in war of Isaac's older brother and the idea of what it is to be a man in a land where “the border is always moving/but the mountain stays in the same place”. A very powerful experience.

To 9 June (020 8743 5050)