Theatre: Loss, heartbreak and reconciliation

Written By: William Russell
Published: March 17, 2018 Last modified: March 17, 2018

Returning to Haifa,

The Finborough Theatre, London.


In 1948, after the British left Palestine, the Israelis embarked on the seizure of Palestinian and Arab villages. Among the displaced were Said and Safiya who, in the chaos, fled leaving behind their baby son. In 1967, they were able to return to their home when the borders were re-opened after the Six Day War. They found another displaced person living there, Miriam, a middle-aged Holocaust survivor with a 20-year-old son called Dov.

Returning to Haifa, adapted for the stage by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace, is a story of reconciliation, of misunderstanding, and of loss, powerfully acted and heartbreaking.

Dov is, of course, the lost baby. He is not an Arab but an Israeli, and is determined to remain in the world he has been brought up in – he is, as far as he is concerned, a Jew.

Like his father Said, he is a bull-headed, determined man,  and the clashes between the pair as they try to work out what the future holds for them are splendidly performed by Amman Haj Ahmad (Said) and Ethan Kai (Dov).

The young Safiya is played by Leila Ayard andthe young Said is played by Ethan Kai, which makes the clash between the two men all the more effective. The women watch and wonder and suffer. Safiya sees the son she has found but is not going to get back. Miriam sees the son she has brought up faced with possibly leaving her.

The novella by Ghassan Kanafani, on which the play is based, is celebrated. This stage version, handsomely staged and directed by Caitlin McLeod, works well. It was originally commission by New York’s Public Theatre, but the production was abandoned after political pressure and this staging at the Finborough is its world premier.