"Oslo": how theatre can make geopolitics a fun night out

We're always on the lookout for ways that the arts can make the worlds of politics and power more explicable, more recognisably human-scale.

Here's news of Oslo - an American play storming Broadway which has the unlikely topic of the 1990s Oslo peace accords, and particularly the backchannel discussions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This Guardian report tells all:

Oslo tells the previously unexplored story behind the peace process that led, in September 1993, to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands in Washington, with President Bill Clinton beaming between them like a marriage celebrant. This moment was brokered by Terje Rød-Larsen, the central character of the play, a Norwegian diplomat who arranged secret meetings between Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

Although the Scandinavian initiative showed the shape of a possible future two-state solution, the hopeful photo on the White House lawn now looks like science fiction, as the Israeli and Palestinian positions have widened and entrenched.

“It’s amazing how the historical memory deletes quite big details,” Rogers says. “In New York, you could literally feel the audience going: ‘Oh, the PLO! I’d forgotten them!’ So you wonder if, in a few years, audiences at a play will be going: ‘al-Qaida!’ or ‘Isis!’”

If contemporary American playwrights ever formed a cabinet, Rogers would be a shoo-in for secretary of state. All his major plays deal with foreign affairs: The Overwhelming (2006) dramatises the Rwandan genocide and Blood and Gifts (2010) explores the wars in Afghanistan. He has also written plays set in Spain, Germany and now Norway.

“It was never a plan,” says Rogers. “But, in hindsight, it makes sense. I’m the child of 60s Californian liberals and my father has just retired as a professor of political science. So international relations were sort of the talk at the dinner table. And we lived overseas, in south-east Asia, for a few years when I was a child. But it’s more that these are the subjects I’m interested in, rather than: wouldn’t this make a great play?”