CHECKPOINT Chana has received rave reviews at the Finborough Theatre in London. The play tackles key issues – ageing and anti-Semitism.
With the play’s run coming to an end on March 20 – tickets via the Finborough Theatre website – Close-up Culture catches up with Jeff Page, writer of the play.
A: What prompted you to write Checkpoint Chana? Was it a result of visiting Israel and seeing with your own eyes the treatment of Palestinians? Or was it another trigger that prompted you?
Q: THE starting point was Bev’s character – she had been in my head for a few years. She’d appeared in a play I had written before Chana that did not go anywhere. The situation she is in is similar to that of a few radicals of the baby boomer generation.
Although the play has Israel and Palestine very much in the foreground, I was keen to explore a number of issues. The position of young people, what happens to artists in decline and the idea of stubbornness.
Q: Checkpoint Chana is a brave play in that it tackles the thorny – and emotive – issue of anti-Semitism. Did you have any qualms when penning it? Did you fear that you might be courting controversy?
A: I TOOK a good deal of care with the play as you can imagine. I do think it is the duty of a playwright to examine issues such as anti-Semitism and approach the subject with honesty.
Q: How involved were you in the journey from script to the reading of the play last year at the Finborough – and the jump to the current production? And how closely did you work with producer Genevieve Burns and director Manuel Bau?
A: MANUEL and I have been a team since last September when we were paired up at the Vibrant Festival held at the Finborough Theatre. Gen joined us when we got the green light for a full production.
We are a team and it is fantastic to be working with such talented and committed people.
Q: You must be delighted with the decision to cast Geraldine Somerville as Bev. It is as if the role were made for her?
A: IT was a big moment when we knew Geraldine was taking the part. People who have seen the play will testify to her brilliance. At the Finborough you get a close-up view of an extraordinary performance. I could go on at length about her and the play but the best thing would be to check both out for yourself.
We took great care to assemble a talented cast and it has paid off.
Q: Out of interest, how many times have you sneaked in to watch the play?
A: IT is difficult to keep me out. So far I have only missed one!
Q: Any view on the Finborough and its determination to be brave and bring new plays to the stage? Staging two plays – yours and Returning To Haifa – simultaneously that look at Palestinian issue is something few others would do.
A: THERE have been a lot of positive things written about Neil McPherson’s work at the Finborough over the years – they are all true.
His commitment to new writing and innovative revivals is incredible. He is the John Peel of London theatre. He does not really care much about what people expect or what is fashionable.
Q: I know you have other plays under your belt such as Attack Of The A&E Zombies. But do you think Checkpoint Chana represents something of a breakthrough?
A: IT really does Jeff. Now the challenge is to keep it up and improve.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: THE current project is about a charity – it is a real case of write what you know. I have been working in the voluntary sector for the past eleven years.
Q: Playwriting must be a lonely profession. How do you remain disciplined and confident in your own ability?
A: WELL, playwriting is a spare time activity for me – evenings and weekends only. My full-time job is working for a sight loss charity. It means that I have to work quickly – no procrastination or staring out the window!
Q: Which playwrights do you most admire?
A: DARIO Fo, Brecht, Roy Williams, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, Laura Wade, Rodney Ackland, Lucy Prebble, Barney Norris, Sarah Daniels, James Graham, Jez Butterworth and Peter Gil. That is a good start – and before you even start with pre-1930.
Q: As you say, you do voluntary work. Tell us a little about it.
A: I AM one of the lucky people who get to do a job I really enjoy. I work for a brilliant charity, the Thomas Pocklington Trust. We work with blind and partially sighted people. The charity is determined to make a difference to the equality agenda in a pragmatic way.
Q: Checkpoint Chana has received rave reviews. How do you react? Do you get excited? Or are you phlegmatic about it all?
A: I THINK it is good to enjoy the best reviews.
Q: Where next for Checkpoint Chana? Trafalgar Studios? Surely it deserves to be seen on another stage?
A: NO plans at the moment but we can dream. I would love to develop the play even further.
Images by Samuel Kirkman