By Sumayyah Daisy Lane, BA History
1993. The world is watching. Two enemies stand across from one another about to make history, and yet only a handful of people know the story of how they got there. This Tony-award winning play is that story, depicting the tension and thrill of the nine months leading up to this ground-breaking handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in the Rose Gardens, Washington.
JT Roger’s fast-paced script makes for a gripping play that revolves primarily around men in suits, smoking, arguing and sharing drinks. The issue of the play offers a unique perspective in that it allows for a fairly neutral perspective, Oslo follows a Norwegian couple, diplomat Mona Juul (Lydia Leonard) and social scientist Terje Rod-Larsen (Toby Stephens), who return home after witnessing violence in Palestine first-hand with a wish to initiate peace in any way possible. Their wish comes to life as they attempt to construct a back-channel through which the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Israeli representatives can negotiate constructive, and highly secret, peace talks.
Leonard as Mona is a fleeting presence, acting both the diplomat and narrator. It is through her that the audience is introduced to characters and given brief but necessary overview of historical events. The reality of the situation is emphasised through visual aids (primarily war victims of the Intifada), yet simultaneously the audience is left in suspense, forgetting that the conclusion of the story is one known to us.
Roger’s thriller draws comedy out of a highly controversial topic, with a strong, dynamic cast and an excellent script. The talks are both career- and life-threatening to those involved; alongside this men from both factions bond over waffles and scotch. At one point, tensions rise sky-high: Uri Savir (Philip Arditti) does an impersonation of Arafat and Terje responds with a disturbingly good Rabin. Instead of the threatened conflict, it results in a moment of emotional bonding as the group begin to see one another as human beings rather than enemies.
The play attempts to end on a hopeful note with speech from Terje advising the audience to look at how far we’ve come since the beginnings of the conflict. This optimistic note rings false to an audience aware of the ensuing violence in a shrinking Palestine, especially in the wake of the 100 years since the signing of the Balfour Declaration with no possibility of another Oslo on the horizon. Despite this, Oslo is successful in provoking thought regarding the achievements of the peace process; while the Oslo Accords did not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its accomplishments cannot go ignored. The PLO were finally recognised as the official voice of the Palestinians, and Palestine recognised the existence of the Israeli state. It is out of this that Rogers fashions heroes of the Middle East, making for a spectacular and riveting production.
Running time: 2 hrs 55 (including interval)
Oslo is open in the Harold Pinter Theatre until 30th December.