Returning To Haifa

by Ghassan Kanafani, Adapted by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace

27 February - 24 March 2018

“You haven’t asked, but yes, you both may stay in our house for the time being. And use our things.
I figure it’ll take a war to settle it all.”

The world premiere

The world premiere of the first English-language adaptation of the classic novella by Ghassan Kanafani, Returning to Haifa, adapted for the stage by Naomi Wallace and Ismail Khalidi.

A compelling story of two families – one Palestinian, one Israeli – forced by history into an intimacy they didn’t choose.

In 1948, Palestinian couple Said and Safiyya fled their home during the Nakba. Now, in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, the borders are open for the first time in twenty years, and the couple dare to return back to their home in Haifa. They are prepared – of course – to find someone else living where they once did. Yet nothing could prepare Said and Safyya for the encounter they both desire and dread: the son they had to leave behind, and what he has now become…

Coinciding with the 70th anniversaries of both the Nakba or “catastrophe” – the mass dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 – and the foundation of the State of Israel, Returning to Haifa is a unique, deeply moving play of suspense and heartbreak, where humanity and vision combine with a frontline immediacy.

This adaptation was originally commissioned by New York’s Public Theater who had committed to programming the play, but subsequently abandoned the production after political pressure from the board. It now receives its long-overdue world premiere at the Finborough Theatre, directed by Caitlin McLeod whose critically acclaimed production of Naomi Wallace’s And I And Silence sold out at the Finborough Theatre and transferred Off Broadway.

The run will be accompanied by the FINBOROUGHFORUM, a series of informal post-show discussions and debates, on Saturday 3 and 17 March 2018. All events are free to ticketholders for that evening’s performance of the play. FINBOROUGHFORUM events will be twitter friendly with live tweets from @FinboroughForum. Using the hashtag #finfor, the speakers will also answer questions posed on Twitter so everyone can be included, no matter where they are in the world. The events feature discussion with academics, writers and members of the cast and company.

Discussions are after the evening performance and are free to ticketholders for that evening’s performance.

Saturday 3 March
Q&A with members of the cast and Anni Kanafani, widow of Ghassan Kanafani, on Ghassan’s legacy and her work in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon with the foundation which bears his name.

Saturday 17 March
Q&A with playwright Naomi Wallace and Robin Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA. Robin will discuss the connection between Palestine and black liberation in the US and both Robin and Naomi will discuss how they have influenced each others work.

About the writer Ghassan Kanafani

Writer Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972) is widely regarded as one of Palestine’s greatest novelists, writing some of the most admired stories in modern Arabic literature. He was also an intellectual and political activist. His novellas and short stories, now translated into dozens of languages, are considered by many today as having been ahead of their time, both in form and content. Kanafani wrote the novella Returning to Haifa in 1969, a testament not only to Kanafani's principled commitment to the politics of liberation, but also his deep empathy for the 'other' as well as his modern approach to storytelling. Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut in 1972 at the age of 36. Kanafani's obituary in Lebanon's The Daily Star wrote that: "He was a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages."

About the playwright Naomi Wallace

Playwright Naomi Wallace’s plays include In the Heart of America (Bush Theatre), Slaughter City (Royal Shakespeare Company), One Flea Spare (Public Theater, New York City), The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek and Things of Dry Hours (New York Theatre Workshop), The Fever Chart: Three Vision of the Middle East (Public Lab, new York City), And I and Silence (Finborough Theatre and Signature Theatre, New York City) and Night is a Room (Signature Theatre, New York City). Naomi has been awarded the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize twice, the Fellowship of Southern Writers Drama Award, the Obie Award and the Horton Foote Award. She is also a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts development grant. In 2013, Naomi received the inaugural Windham Campbell Prize for Drama, and in 2015 an Arts and Letters Award in Literature. Naomi’s play One Flea Spare was recently incorporated in the permanent repertoire of the French National Theatre, the Comédie- Francaise. Only two American playwrights have been added to La Comédie’s repertoire in 300 years, the other is Tennessee Williams.

About the playwright Ismail Khalidi

Playwright Ismail Khalidi was born in Beirut and raised in the United States. His plays include Truth Serum Blues and Sabra Falling (Pangea World Theater, Minneapolis), Tennis in Nablus (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta) and Foot (Teatro Amal, Chile). His writing has appeared in numerous anthologies as well as in The Nation, Guernica, American Theatre, Mizna and Remezcla. Ismail co-edited (with Naomi Wallace) Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora. He is currently under commission from Noor Theatre and Actors Theatre of Louisville and is a visiting artist with Teatro Amal in Chile.

About the director Caitlin McLeod

Director Caitlin McLeod returns to the Finborough Theatre where she directed Facts, Northern Star and And I And Silence which subsequently transferred to the Signature Theatre, New York City. She is the Artistic Director of new-writing company The Coterie (supported by a Sky Academy Scholarship) and has formerly been part of the Old Vic 12, Artistic Associate with HighTide and Trainee Director at the Royal Court Theatre. Productions include One Flea Spare (Sheen Centre, New York City), A Further Education (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs), BRENDA (HighTide Festival Theatre and Yard Theatre), Polar Bears (West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Malcontent (Shakespeare’s Globe), Commonwealth (Almeida Theatre), HomeTruths (Cardboard Citizens at The Bunker) and The Children’s Hour (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama). Caitlin has been Assistant or Associate Director for Dominic Cooke, Jeremy Herrin, James Macdonald (all at the Royal Court Theatre), Simon Godwin (National Theatre), Hamish McColl (Hampstead Theatre), and Dominic Dromgoole (Shakespeare’s Globe).

The Press on Returning to Haifa

“A moving confrontation between two sets of displaced people and an utterly unsentimental exploration of the complexities of home, history and parenthood.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“As quietly shattering as it is gently complex.” Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

“An important work that is more healing than divisive. Thought-provoking.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“It works on several levels: as a poignant family drama, as a plea for Israeli-Palestinian understanding and as a warning of what will follow without some form of reconciliation.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“It humanises enemies and explains motives. And the sensitive portrayals by the ensemble add to emotional impact.” Paul in London

“Directed with aplomb by Caitlin McLeod…. Required viewing. Catch it if you can.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Bringing this important voice to the stage this anniversary year could not be more timely.” Judi Herman, Jewish Renaissance

“At a moment when borders and barriers are hardening, Returning to Haifa's a reminder that once a curtain comes down, it can't just be re-opened.” Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

“Leila Ayad and Ethan Kai make a sunny young couple on the cusp of catastrophe.” Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

“A delightful Marlene Sidaway.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Ammar Haj Ahmad, in crumpled white suit, is suitably forceful as Said.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Ethan Kai doubles effectively as both his younger self and his grown-up son.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Ethan Kai works miracles in distinguishing his young Said from his rather scary Dov.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Marlene Sidaway plays Miriam with calm dignity.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Marlene Sidaway and Myriam Acharki give strong heartfelt performances.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Caitlin McLeod imaginatively directs the actors through the space.” Emily Harrison, The Upcoming

“Caitlin McLeod’s production and Rosie Elnile’s design cleverly embody the play’s central theme.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Rosie Elnile's design that does most of the work – an exceptional example of thinking through space.” Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

“The set by Rosie Elnile is marvellous.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Rosie Elnile’s ingenious set design.” Emily Harrison, The Upcoming

“Bravo Finborough for being bold and brave.” Jeff Prestridge, Close Up Culture

“Returning to Haifa leaves you wondering how many more individual stories are left untold.” Emily Harrison, The Upcoming

“Commissioned by New York’s Public Theater, this play never reached the stage because of pressure from the board. They missed a trick because it is a powerful and disturbing piece now receiving its belated premiere.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Its call for reciprocal awareness and acknowledgement of past injustice seems more necessary than ever.” Michael Billlington, The Guardian

“Timely.” Sepy Baghaei, London Pub Theatres

“Fiery and emotional.” Paul in London

The Press on Playwright Naomi Wallace

"She speaks to, and for, the body as eloquently as any American writer since Walt Whitman." American Theatre

"Absolutely compelling theatre." Evening Standard on The Fever Chart

"A shudderingly poetic meditation on the implacability of death and the universality of mourning." The Scotsman on The Fever Chart

"A taut, beautifully written elegy and it reaches out to us now like a prophecy." The Observer on The Fever Chart

“Complicated people with believable motivations that lead to unbelievable actions. And it’s a pleasure to hear intelligent debate about religion” Time Out Chicago

“Bunin’s effortless emotional accuracy is marvellously captured” Chicago Free Press

The Press on playwright Ismail Khalidi

"A beautifully crafted work of art that balances the Lebanese-born playwright’s passion for the politics of his homeland with a playful and irreverent comedic sensibility" Wendell Brock, Atlanta Journal Constitution on Tennis in Nablus

"Writing with an ear for contemporary language and a delightful sense of the absurd...Khalidi defuses the solemnity of his story by masking it with comedic zest. And yet he never negates the horror of the final twist." Wendell Brock, Atlanta Journal Constitution on Tennis in Nablus

“[Khalidi's] beautiful writing ranges from a kind of hip-hop spoken word to a Greek chorus to chilling hallucinatory interrogations.” Lydia Howell, Pulse on Truth Serum Blues

The Press on Director Caitlin McLeod

On And I And Silence at the Finborough Theatre

★★★★★ The Times, The Guardian, Financial Times, Time Out, WhatsOnStage, Evening Standard, Shortlisted for an Off-West End Award - Best New Play, Time Out Critics’ Choice, Evening Standard Critics’ Choice, named one of Lyn Gardner's Best Plays of 2011

“UNMISSABLE.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“Wise and powerful.” Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

“Director Caitlin McLeod has fashioned an intense, gripping production… a potent reminder of the unbeatable power of theatre.” Evening Standard

On And I And Silence at the Signature Theatre, New York City –

“Gracefully directed by Caitlin McLeod.” Time Out New York

“A typically first-class production by the Signature, with the director Caitlin McLeod.” Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

“Under Caitlin McLeod's direction, the four actresses infuse Wallace's work with deep feeling. [A] stark, elegiac drama.” The New Yorker


★★★★★ The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Stage, Female Arts

“Visionary and magical.” The Telegraph

“It tells you the truth about what it means to be alive.” Huffington Post, Top Picks 2015

27 February - 24 March 2018

Tickets and Times

Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm

Approximately 80 minutes with no interval