The peace talks that had us on the edge of our seats


THE IM­AGE is for­ever etched in the minds of those who re­call it: Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shak­ing hands un­der the watch­ful eye of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton on the White House lawn.

At the time, it looked like the dawn of a new era but that was not to be. There is, how­ever, a far deeper and more com­plex story be­hind that land­mark im­age.

It in­volves an un­usual cou­ple — both Nor­we­gian diplo­mats — who se­cretly got these two un­like­li­est of par­ties to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. And it be­came “the stuff of crack­ling theatre”, as one re­viewer (Ben Brant­ley, the New York Times) put it.

The play, Oslo, drama­tised by J T Rogers and di­rected by Bartlett Sher, opened on Thurs­day on Broad­way at Vivian Beau­mont Theatre at the Lin­coln Cen­tre in New York — hav­ing played to sell-out houses at the Mitzi E Ne­w­house Theatre in the city last year.

The idea for the play be­gan when diplo­mat and think-tank ex­ec­u­tive Terje Rod-Larsen and his wife Mona Juul (now Nor­way’s Am­bas­sador to the UK) met Mr Sher through Man­hat­tan’s Chapin School, where both their daugh­ters were stu­dents.

Mr Rod-Larsen told Mr Sher he had a story to tell which might make an in­ter­est­ing drama. Play­wright Rogers was brought in, and the re­sult is so dra­matic that it is now pro­moted with a quote from Joe Dziemi­anow­icz’s Daily News re­view: “Can we make peace with en­e­mies? Oslo gives us hope”.

Mr Rod-Larsen is a diplo­mat well­known to this correspondent for nearly 10 years, since he was brief­ing the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on the Sec­ond Le­banon War. He spoke then to a very small group of jour­nal­ists in the Del­e­gates’ Lounge, and gave us his take on Is­rael’s cam­paign in Le­banon.

By con­trast, Mr Rogers, an es­tab­lished play­wright, had no di­rect in­volve­ment in Mid­dle East pol­i­tics. But his play has been crafted in such a way that it most art­fully por­trays not only the ten­sions of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, but the in­ter­play of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships as well.

Mr Rod-Larsen had them liv­ing to­gether, break­ing bread to­gether, and delv­ing — of­ten most dra­mat­i­cally — into the depths of each other’s souls. It shows the oc­ca­sional out­bursts of pro­fan­ity, as well as hu­mour.

What Mr Rogers and Mr Sher achieve with this play — us­ing Mr RodLarsen’s ma­te­rial — is noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary. I well re­call sev­eral mo­ments dur­ing the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion when I turned to my Is­raeli guest in re­ac­tion. We were both speech­less.

‘Oslo’ will run in Lon­don at the Na­tional Theatre from 5 to 23 Septem­ber

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