17 September 2021
INDECENT (Menier Chocolate Factory) Review
A bit of background on the story first. In 1906 Sholem Asch (a Polish-born Yiddish-speaking Jewish novelist) wrote a play called “God of Vengeance”. It was completely scandalous for a couple of reasons, not the least of which were representing Jews in a negative light (one of the main characters is the owner of a brothel) and homosexuality (his daughter falls in love with a woman). Asch took the play to Berlin to be produced by Rudolf Schildkraut (a famed Austrian theatre actor of the time). The play was a massive hit, toured Europe for quite a while, then made its way to America. It eventually opened on Broadway, where it was quickly shut down by the government, following complaints of indecency, most notably made by prominent Jewish communities, with the cast getting entangled in a legal battle. Asch left America for Europe and Israel in his sunset years having had enough of it all.
“Indecent” is Paula Vogel’s play that details the history of “God of Vengeance” beginning to end, told through the eyes of Asch, his wife, and the troupe of actors who perform his play first in Germany and then in America. It is a cast of 7 actors, each of whom take on multiple roles. I have to say that, to director Rebecca Taichman’s credit, all transitions are clear, coherent, and it was always clear who was who at every point. The cast is accompanied by a 3-piece Klezmer band who are fully integrated into the action (rather than just sitting on the side playing the music), which was absolutely brilliant.
Everyone in the cast did a stellar job, but Peter Polycarpou stole the show for me. I’ve seen him in plenty of productions over the years, and he is brilliantly different in every role. Finbar Lynch (who I’d seen at the National before) was the only cast member who played the same role beginning to end, and I thought he was particularly good in the bits where he was being a fatherly figure to the God of Vengeance cast. Alexandra Silber and Molly Osborne played their parts well, but their [put-on] accents grated my ear. I got used to it eventually, but having been around enough Yiddish-speaking elders, it was distracting for the better part of the play. Beverley Klein, on the other hand, had the accent and the mannerisms spot-on. Cory English played lots of miscellaneous characters, fair few of which provided comic relief, which he carried off nicely. Last, but not least, Joseph Timms played Asch (and others) quite genuine and believably, except for the scene where he opened up about his (well, Asch’s) experience in start-of-war Europe. Somehow that didn’t come across as sympathetic…
The band was terrific, but I think I now have a little crush on Josh Middleton, who played the accordion (and a few other instruments too). The man’s face paints a picture. When he walks in front of the audience, winking and smiling, you can’t help but cheer. I genuinely felt that it was his expressiveness that helped set the mood for the key scenes. That said, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for his live gigs.
The set (courtesy of Riccardo Hernandez) was inspired, as was the choice of using Yiddish in addition to English for signage that punctuated the play. The use of sand (being vague on purpose here) was absolutely brilliant and added both charm and heft to the scenes where it was used. I am going to keep an eye out for another Rebecca Taichman production.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £10.