What’s Left of the Flag

Sean Flanagan in 'What's Left of the Flag', a new play by Jimmy Murphy. Photo: Steve Gallagher

Sean Flanagan in 'What's Left of the Flag', a new play by Jimmy Murphy. Photo: Steve Gallagher

“To be a good Jew, you have to have a good conscience; to be a good Israeli, you have to have a good memory.” So says Jacob, one of two Mossad agents holed up in the top floor of an abandoned building on Abbey Street in Jimmy Murphy’s new play. The fragmentation of identity into ultimately self-destructive dualities provides us with the core conflict of What’s Left of the Flag, and the choices of either/or, then/now, and us/them are thrown into sharp relief. This is paradoxically the play’s strength and also the seed of its uneasy relationship with the political realities that exist beyond the walls of the Theatre Upstairs at the Plough.

Both agents have been dispatched to Dublin to assassinate a former Palestinian terrorist who has long since abandoned the armed struggle against Israel in favour of political activism. Perched in the cramped confines of a derelict office, the grizzled veteran Jacob and jittery greenhorn Yossi await the beginning of a rally on the street below where their target is meant to speak. As the inactivity of waiting to perform his first assignment takes its toll on Yossi, questions about the validity of his mission, and indeed the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people, bubble to the surface.

As the hard-edged Jacob, Gerard Byrne manages to balance a sense of raw vengeance and loyalty to a narrow moral authority with a disarming humanity, grounding the character’s hard-line rhetoric in the need to salve his own deeply felt wounds. Sean Flanagan’s Yossi offers a complex rendering of a conscience at war with itself, where his duty to country is stymied by a developing need to articulate his own sense of morality. Under Charlie Bonner’s tight direction, both men are able to keep their exchanges bristling with tension, even when the play’s conceit is stretched to the breaking point.

While Murphy’s sharply honed language keeps the play's momentum from stalling, it becomes apparent that what have been written are, for the most part, political points of view rather than fully formed characters. The oppositional duality of Jacob and Yossi’s positions are clearly staked out, but there is an ambiguity missing in their characterizations that would help to deepen the play’s conflict even more. This is not to dismiss the play’s debate, but the uncomplicated treatment of Jacob’s commitment to his mission and Yossi’s ‘wet behind the ears’ earnestness borders dangerously on stereotype. While it’s certainly plausible that members of the Mossad may question the validity of their actions, the blatant way in which Yossi sounds his uneasiness about the operation invites our incredulity. It’s hard to accept that members of the Mossad, one of the most highly trained and disciplined spy organizations in the world, would so vocally and vociferously debate their government’s policy moments before they're meant to hit their target. Then again, perhaps the Mossad’s bumbled assassination in Dubai has forced Murphy to consider otherwise.

Jesse Weaver is currently in his final year of doctoral research at University College Cork. His focus is on the shifting role of the playwright in Irish theatre-making during the last fifteen years.

  • Review
  • Theatre

What’s Left of the Flag by Jimmy Murphy

12 - 24 April, 2010

Produced by Theatre Upstairs @ the Plough
In Theatre Upstairs @ the Plough

Directed by Charlie Bonner

With: Gerard Byrne, Sean Flanagan