When is free speech not allowed?

Checkpoint Chana interrogates where the boundaries of free speech lie before becoming blurred. In this world premiere of Jeff Page's new play at Finborough Theatre, we are given a frank portrayal of someone who unapologetically believes she has something to say which must clash with public taste. 

Bev, played by Harry Potter's Geraldine Somerville, is a poet whose latest work has triggered a strong backlash as it's been labelled antisemitic. It's a difficult time for Bev; she's enervated and slipping into obscurity. His father is in poor health and her job at a university is on the line.

She wanders about lost in thought until she's joined by her exceedingly patient and loyal PA Tamsin, played by a lively Ulrika Krishnamurti. Tamsin's primary objective is to restore her employer's spark. Bev is staunchly unapologetic and is so fond of drink, she necks alcohol from a hot water bottle. 

Bev's ego is not helped by Michael, the fan of Bev's work who represents her past. Nathaniel Wade plays this with an infectious buoyancy and delicately shows his disillusionment as he gets to know the lonely alcoholic writer for better - and worse.

Only during an interview with journalist and Tamsin's love interest David, played strongly by Matt Mella, does Bev demonstrate any acknowledgement that her poetry might have ruffled a feather. We are forced to ask: Is Bev antisemitic or did she have the right to say what she did? Did she mean to court controversy or was it just a throwaway line in a poem?

These questions are bravely faced head-on by Page. Together with the intense cast and pin-focused direction from Manuel Bau, it's an uncomfortable night of theatre, but certainly one worth seeing.

Checkpoint Chana plays at Finborough Theatre until March 20.

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