First Night: Jury finally returns a compelling verdict

Perdition Gate Theatre London
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The Independent Online
THE JURY has been out for the last 12 years on Jim Allen's courtroom- based drama Perdition. Or, to be more precise, it was never properly sworn in, for the play was famously cancelled 48 hours before its first preview at the Royal Court on the grounds of the hurt that might be caused by its allegedly anti-Semitic sentiments. The drama scrutinises the thorny issue of the relationship between Zionism and Nazism. Were they poles apart or eerily symbiotic in their common stress on the need for racial separatism?

Allen's play zeroes in on this question via an imaginary trial - a libel suit brought by a fictional Hungarian gynaecologist, Dr Yaron, against his former assistant Ruth Kaplan, an Israeli Jew. She has published pamphlets accusing him, as a member of the Central Jewish Council, of collaborating with the Nazis when Hungary was occupied in 1944. Her main charge is that his actions were dictated by Zionist priorities. Mobilising world opinion in favour of a Jewish state was more important to the leaders, she claimed, than the lives of the thousands of Hungarian Jews sent to the death camps.

With its combination of an adroitly re-edited text and compelling performances, Elliot Levey's moving production scotches many of the myths that have surrounded this as yet unstaged piece. What fires the play is a passionate anti-racism and its belief that Zionism is culpable precisely because it is a barrier to uprooting anti-Semitism. There is still a potential problem. The prosecuting counsel accused Ruth Kaplan of using Dr Yaron as the stalking horse for striking at Zionism. Can the same be said of Perdition? Does it pillory a man and crudely simplify his past in order to score ideological points?

As sensitively acted here, the play springs free of these charges. With the demeanour of a humane academic, Morris Perry's superb Yaron shows you an intensely complex individual. The crucial point is that he has a much subtler and more probing sense of his guilt than anyone in court.

Paul Taylor