Jerusalem Tango

Playwright Pat Rowe tells Femke Colborne why she’s chosen to set her new play Jerusalem Tango during a momentous event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict

Hero image

On 22 July 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War, a bomb exploded at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It had been planted by the militant right-wing Zionist organisation Irgun, intended as a protest against the British occupation of Palestine. Despite several attempts from both journalists and the attackers themselves to warn the authorities, the hotel was not evacuated and 91 people were killed.

Now, the story of the King David Hotel bombing and its role in causing the British to retreat from Palestine will be the subject of a new play by Pat Rowe (pictured), a British Jew who has also spent a lot of time in Israel.

Jerusalem Tango will explore the legacy of the so-called British Mandate, a crucial 30-year period in the history of Israel and Palestine. But there is also a human side to the story: the play focuses on a relationship between a young Jewish woman and a British army officer, and the struggles they face while trying to reconcile their political views with their love for each other.

“I am fascinated by that 30-year period, the last burst of colonialism,” says Rowe.

“But it is also a love story, a story of conflicting loyalties. I was interested in exploring how a romance could illuminate the dilemmas of the conflict.”

Ziva and Thomas meet during a dance hosted by the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine.

“They used to have tea dances at the hotel for officers and the locals to dance together, and they would dance the tango,” says Rowe.

“This was not unusual but it seemed extraordinary to me that people were still dancing the tango at such a violent time.”

Ziva’s mother was killed in a terrorist attack and she is involved with the extremist group that plans to bomb the hotel; she wants the British out of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Thomas is a British officer, a rising star in the administration with preconceived ideas about the city and its future.

“They struggle to see each other’s point of view,” says Rowe.

“Ziva is dedicated to a cause, and Thomas is simply trying to do a job he has been given. He has preconceptions about the situation but realises through his relationship with her that, as ever, the reality is far more complicated.”

Rowe is also the author of Forbidden, a wartime love story set in Berlin, and Toad, a black comedy about an elderly Polish wartime émigré. She claims Jerusalem Tango is not a political play, in that it tries not to make a political point.

“I have tried to present a nuanced view of Israeli history,” she says.

“Of course I am sympathetic to the Jewish side because I am Jewish, but
I hope it doesn’t come down on either side of the argument. It is an attempt to show that the complexities of the current situation didn’t come from nowhere.”

By drawing attention to the British Mandate period, Rowe hopes to show “how the British role in the whole situation there laid the foundations for the contemporary situation”. But she also believes the questions the play raises are relevant to terrorism in general.

“One man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom fighting,” she says.

“The bombing of the King David Hotel was a major turning point in the history of that area. It was considered by many, including the perpetrators, to be a disaster, because of the massive loss of life. And yet it was hugely significant because it sharply accelerated the British decision to leave.”

She also believes the struggles of the British Mandate period are mirrored in many other military conflicts, such as the war in Afghanistan.

“It shows what happens when people try to go into another country without really understanding the people and their stage of development,” she says.

“And the more involved they get, the more difficult it is to leave.”

Jerusalem Tango, 1-26 May, The Carriageworks, Leeds

Interact: Responses to Preview:
Jerusalem Tango

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.