Walking to Jerusalem review: A personal and political one-man travelogue

Dublin Theatre Festival: Justin Butcher serves as an energetic guide along the Roman roads out of Europe


The New Theatre
Justin Butcher has "Jerusalem syndrome." In 2017, the "actor-scallywag-activist" undertook a pilgrimage to the besieged settlement of Gaza, travelling over 3000 miles, mostly on foot, to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. The journey was, also, an act of contrition for British involvement in the Palestinians' plight: 2017 marked 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, through which then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George sowed the seeds for the civil strife that would dominate the lives of Palestinians and Jews for the next century.

Sarah Mercade sets the scene for the one-man travelogue with a heap of dusty domestic rubble, flanked by two ancient, crumbling standing stones, and a painted desert vista upon which video designer David Shepherd projects manipulated documentary images and a journey map. The text, meanwhile, is adapted from Butcher's 2018 book of the same title, and Butcher serves an energetic and zealous guide along the old Roman roads that lead the way out of Europe, introducing us to various characters along the way: from his fellow travellers and various Palestinian friends to Syrian refugees he meets in Greece.

The story is a fascinating one and the highlighted cause is undoubtedly worthy. However, the linear narrative works against the theatrical energy, which rarely transcends the performance's activist origins. Director Matilda Reith tries her best to enliven the physical aspects of the storytelling by harnessing key props for metaphorical effect. The most memorable image of the night comes when Butcher cradles his hiking boots and backpack - his father - in his lap.

The triumph of this small personal detail over the harrowing political fact is telling. It is through the personal that the political message has most potency. Unfortunately, Butcher’s narrative privileges his own truths, rather than the testimony of those whose voices he has committed to share. That would surely be the more effective story.


Runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until Sunday, October 6th