National Theatre, London – until 23 September 2017
Then Harold Pinter Theatre, London – 2 October-30 December 2017
Oslo, a new play from JT Rogers is evidently meticulously researched. It tells the story of the channel of communication brokered by Norwegians, that culminated in the 1993 handshake and peace accord between Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel. It is a tale of diplomacy and negotiation, and as a history lesson, it offers moments that are fascinating.
It is also, for the most part, very well acted. Toby Stephens is Terje Rød-Larsen, a Norwegian whose time spent in Gaza suggests to him that there could well be a path to peace to be explored. Rød-Larsen opens the narrative and as the evening unfolds, holds the process together as tempers fray. There’s more than a hint of a Scandinavian Hugh Grant in Stephen’s work, which detracts from his overall impact. Other neat turns in the production come from Peter Polycarpou’s Palestinian Ahmed Qurie, Philip Arditti as an Israeli Foreign Ministry official and Paul Herzberg who delivers a cracking take on Shimon Peres.
But research and acting do not a great play make – and quite how Oslo scooped the Tony is hard to fathom. At three hours, the play could easily lose 45 minutes – it lacks the wit to justify such a long haul, with Rogers resorting far too often to the cop out of having his characters shout at each other. Ultimately, Oslo is a stitched together series of “behind the scenes” anecdotes with little dramatic analysis and a heavy sprinkling of bias.
There is also an underlying sadness to the whole piece – there may well have been a momentous handshake in the Rose Garden (24 years ago today), but so what? Fast forward to 2017 and it appears that little has changed.
Runs until 23rd SeptemberThen at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 2nd October to 30th December
Photo credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg