Two Palestinians Go Dogging: Theatrical exhibitionism and a fifth Intifada in occupied Palestine, 20 years from now

Palestinians go dogging
6 min read
04 July, 2022

Staged last month at the Royal Court, Two Palestinians Go Dogging invited much speculation from audiences that may have naively assumed they were attending a play about libidinous and lustful Palestinians.

The truth is that the act of dogging features negligibly presented as a choreographed dance among fully-clothed, balaclava-clad guerillas. Their hips thrust and limbs flail as they chant in unison … “rough Palestinian hands” … before sniper fire interrupts.

The title, though something of a red herring, like a fishhook reels in spectators and serves also as a perfect allegory for occupation.

Much to the disappointment of those that hoped to see randy guerilla fighters on stage, director Omar Elerian and playwright Sami Ibrahim, deliver a political play heavily on symbolism both didactic and reflexive; gritty and compelling. 

"Told across 27 short-burst chapters, the play sits within the 'Theatre of the Absurd' tradition. In the first five minutes audiences are granted permission to laugh at subject matters they would otherwise never dare to. While humour is an important flavour throughout, there is no shortage of emotionally stirring scenes"

They tackle a messy host of questions about the Israeli-Palestinian “issue” and use cast members to express cynicism towards cyclical violence, the cult of martyrdom and the fallen soldier. The play’s ruminations on these themes feel at times meaningful and thought-provoking, and at other times rudderless, but overall, the play succeeds in dramatising the “tit-for-tat” nature of political violence, showing how not to right historical wrongs. 

Told across 27 short-burst chapters, the play sits within the “Theatre of the Absurd” tradition. In the first five minutes, audiences are granted permission to laugh at subject matters they would otherwise never dare to. While humour is an important flavour throughout, there is no shortage of emotionally stirring scenes. 

Overall, the play entertains more than it educates but encourages attendees to scrutinise the playwright’s authorial intentions as a Palestinian who has never seen or lived in occupied Palestinian territories as he declares in a letter read in the epilogue by a character he tries to retire.

So if the play as we have established is not about dogging, what then, is it about? 

The year is 2045 and the former Israeli premier “Bibi Netanyahu” has been resurrected, and has vowed to avenge a slain soldier. 

As for the main plot, the play centres around two families. On one side is a Palestinian family headed by a married couple, Reem and Saeed (played by Hala Omran and Miltos Yerolemou).

Other members include their guerilla fighter son-turned Tik-Tok sensation, Jawad, (played by Luca Kamleh Chapman), and cousins Tariq (played by Joe Hadad) and Salwa (played by Sofia Danu).

Mai Weisz, Sofia Danu, Luca Kamleh Chapman, Joe Haddad in "Two Palestinians go dogging" [photo credit: Ali Wright]
Mai Weisz, Sofia Danu, Luca Kamleh Chapman, Joe Haddad in "Two Palestinians Go Dogging" [photo credit: Ali Wright]

On the other side is an Israeli father-daughter duo, Adam and Sara Yeddin (played by Philipp Mogilnitskiy and Mai Weisz). 

The two families are embroiled in a protracted, vengeance-fuelled, conflict that culminates in the killing of Israel’s ‘Joan of Arc’, 18-year-old conscript, Sara Yeddin, by Palestinian guerillas, and the retaliatory killing of Salwa by the Israeli military. 

The real showdown occurs after their death. As Salwa’s spirit departs her body and begins its ascent, she is confronted by Sara looking for a body to serve as her host. The women engage in a fierce duel whose ultimate prize is existence.

Beneath dim stage lights, the two actresses stand diagonally from each other, raising their voices, crisscrossing and crescendoing, as they face off. Their shared fate as victims of senseless violence humanises them and reinforces the view that in war there are no victors. In a humorous plot twist, however, Sara wins the duel, and her death ignites the start of a fifth Palestinian intifada (uprising).

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More powerful is the play’s commentary on death, asking whether death is necessary, justifiable or avoidable, and is human life intrinsically valuable? If not, why not, and whose life matters and why? 

The play’s young cast serves as a constant reminder of the youth fighting the conflict on behalf of ageing and deceased men. The play also does well to draw attention to the communities living under occupation — victims and aggressors — how and when they are pitted against each other. The reasons of which are never quite explained throughout the play's full two and half hour duration.

Satire is also used to criticise the exploitation of civilian casualties for political point-scoring.

Hala Omran in 'Two Palestinians go Dogging] [photo credit: Ali Wright]
Hala Omran in 'Two Palestinians Go Dogging] [photo credit: Ali Wright]

In one scene, a resolute Reem states that Palestinian deaths matter if “they help us to win”. In a later scene she attempts to kill her nephew who, despite being impaled on barbed wire, has miraculously survived.

His pitiful state attracts “do-gooders” from around the world to pay homage to the “steadfast” Palestinian survivor. Reem is convinced that his death is the only way to convict Israel in the courts of public opinion. The aim is not to demonise Reem, but to demonstrate the madness that war whips up. 

Another brilliant depiction of this emerges in the play's most scathing critique of primordial violence. The scene, a five minute-long monologue is delivered by Mogilnitskiy who maddeningly chants, Rambo style, the words “fighting and fighting and fighting and fighting” repeatedly, while voguing in war poses; grunting and growling, pacing erratically and aimlessly. This is how the scene ends but it starts off with him offering an explanation into the "primordial roots" of the conflict and his patriotic duties as an Israeli.

Joe Haddad in 'Two Palestinians go Dogging' [Photo credit: Ali Wright]
Joe Haddad in 'Two Palestinians Go Dogging' [Photo credit: Ali Wright]

As for tempestuous Reem, “winning” is all she desires and her sweet tooth is revenge. Although her volcanic rage seems exaggerated — perhaps excessive at times — it is not unjustified. In a penny drop moment into the second act, we learn that Reem’s daughter, Lubna, was killed in an Israeli raid on her home. The fact that Sara Yeddin was among the regiment that conducted the raid should come as no surprise to audiences. 

Although Reem’s character does little to challenge the stereotype of the angry Arab, she epitomises the way that pain breeds vengeance and the ways violence begets violence. Her exaggerated bitterness is contrasted against her husband's pacifist temperament.

Together they represent opposite ends of the resistance spectrum: civil versus armed resistance. The play even covers the space in between — mundane acts of nonviolent resistance — such as Jawad’s TikTok antics, stone throwing and not least, the allegedly political act of spitting.

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Despite her fiery ways, Reem remains an edifice of power throughout. Palestine’s story is her story, and that of women and the trauma they soak up.

Though she appears indefatigable, we also catch glimpses of her vulnerability. 

The two most memorable occasions are when she sings the hauntingly melancholic Dilelol lullaby (sleep my child) to mourn Jawad’s death and when she watches his final moments on a mobile phone whose glare casts a dim halo around her as the stage turns pitch black. Silent tears stream down her face as she watches Israeli soldiers douse Jawwad in petrol and set him alight in the building where he killed Sara with a cinder block. 

If the play, as some critics argue, embodies a call to action, it feels barely audible or at best tame. It offers a powerful critique of all actors involved and forces audiences to think about their own perception, engagement and solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Perhaps the overarching question that guides this piece of absurdist theatre is ‘what is it all worth’, and might the situation in 20 years time look exactly as it does today?

Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq's ancient history and contemporary political scene