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A CurtainUp London Review
"You don't make peace with the people you have dinner parties with. You make peace with the people who bomb your markets and blow up your buses." — Terje Rod-Larsen
Peter Polycarpou as Ahmed Qurie and Philip Arditti as Uri Savir (Photo: Brinkhoff/Mogenburg)
This most impressive of plays with a political narrative transferred not just within the United States, but has now come to London where it will stay for a month at the the National Theatre's Lyttelton before moving to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London's West End. Bartlett Sher directs a new British cast but apart from the actors, this is essentially the same production seen on Broadway and twice reviewed by my editor Elyse Sommer.

Although she is known as an English actor, Jennifer Ehle has not come across the pond with the play and Lydia Leonard takes over the role of the Danish negotiator Mona Jull with Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Robert Stephens' son Toby Stephens playing her husband Terje Rod-Larsen. Oslo is one of those once in a decade plays which will burn into your brain the daring vision held by two ordinary Norwegians, Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Jull, of bringing the two diametrically and entrenched apart sides involved in the Palestinian question together in secret talks.
As I write this, I am at a conference for family mediators and I cannot think of a better drama more suited to their profession. When Terje takes aside The Palestinian Finance Minister, Ahmed Qurie (Peter Polycarpou) and the academic professor Yair Hirschfield (Paul Herzberg) who is there to put forth the Israeli position, tells them that outside the negotiating room there are only to be conversations and exchanges about the personal and familial, we are impressed by his vision as to how to bond such radically opposed holders of political position.

Now this happened in secret over 20 years ago and I wondered how we would negotiate with today's opposition, so-called Islamic State and the President of North Korea Kim Jong-Un negotiating with Donald Trump? Today's political extremists make the Palestinian Liberation Organisation seem like a reasoned argument for a just solution but I am forgetting the suicide bombers and the acts of terrorism against the West Bank settlers and at the Munich Olympics.

Having seen Oslo I can put these reservations of relevance behind me. This play has a contribution to make to all peace processes because they were brave enough to tackle an impossible situation, to gain the confidence and trust of both sides and stick with it through the hard and tense times of near breakdown. It is the story of inspiration and determination. These weren't the people who won the Nobel Prize for Peace but it was awarded to those in charge, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Both Mona and Terje worked for FAFO a research institute with a brief for international relations. My editor Elyse Sommer has written at length about this play which you can read here, so I shall concentrate on the new cast.

Lydia Leonard strikes exactly the right notes as Mona, who is mortified when her husband uses her reputation for the truth to convey something that isn't true. The problem is about finding a higher level negotiator to represent the Israelis when any contact with the PLO is illegal. The Palestinians themselves could have been murdered if it were known that they were undertaking these secret negotiations with the enemy.

Howard Ward and Geraldine Alexander double, as the actors did in New York, as the Norwegian Foreign Minister and his wife, and the groundsman and housekeeper and cook at the small hotel hosting the secret talks. With her hair braided and wrapped round her head, Toril Grandal (Geraldine Alexander) wins hearts and minds on both sides with her home cooked waffles. As the Norwegian minister, each new revelation as to what Terje and Mona are up to has Howard Ward as Johan Jorgen Holst using the F word like a submachine gun. Toby Stephens as Terje has gravitas and stresses his role is just to facilitate, but it is a heady goal he is reaching for. Peter Polycarpou is quite magnificent as Ahmed Qurie of the Palestinian team, likable and reasonable and, as his equivalent from the Israeli side, Philip Arditti as Uri Savir has fire and passion and a wicked sense of humour in tormenting Terje with a spoof calamity.

The negotiations will keep you on the edge of your theatre seat in this three hour production. Michael Yergan's dominating powerful sets convey the important, lofty locations.

I cannot see any plans to stream this play to cinemas as yet and it would be a real shame to miss it, but it is on at least until the end of this year at the Harold Pinter. Oslo comes with the highest of recommendations.

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Written and directed by JT Rogers
Starring: Howard Ward, Thomas Arnold, Lydia Leonard, Toby Stephens, Geraldine Alexander, Peter Polycarpou, Nabil Elouahabi, Paul Herzberg, Jacon Krichefski, Philip Arditti, Yair Jonah Lotan
With: Daniel Stewart, Anthony Shuster, Thomas Arnold, Karoline Gable, Rez Gabir, Jason Langley, Geoffrey Towers, Allon Sylvain
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Peter John Still
Projections: 59 Productions
Running time: Three hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking from 2nd October 2017 to 30th December 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street London SW1Y 4DN
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th September 2017 performance at Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Rail Tube: Waterloo)

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