19 September 2022
JEWS. IN THEIR OWN WORDS (Royal Court Theatre) Review
I really wanted to like this show: it felt like antisemitism is an important subject to talk about. The Royal Court website said that Jonathan Freedland (a journalist, not a playwright, incidentally) has created a play out of conversations and interviews he conducted with Jews of different geographical, social, and cultural backgrounds.
Unfortunately, clips from two handfuls of interviewees retold by 7 actors do not add up to a play. Although the performance runs straight through without an interval, there are two distinct parts to it. Well, three really.
The preamble is a potshot at Royal Court over the “Rare Earth Mettle” debacle (whereby a greedy rich guy was given a distinctly Jewish-sounding name, and, despite initial concerns being raised, the production refused to change the name until much later when things really kicked off with some corporate support being pulled, memberships not being renewed, etc.). I didn’t see that show and only heard about all this much later, but at least I got the context of the opening here. That said, even if one didn’t know any of this, it wasn’t difficult to follow the point that was being made.
The first half took the stand-up comedy club format with Alex Waldmann at the mic whilst the rest of the cast acted out pantomimes about money, blood, and power, with everyone eventually breaking out into a[n ironic] song about how everything is the fault of the Jews. Trouble is, it wasn’t funny. I had a look at the people around me: an occasional person had a little smile on their face, but pretty much everyone else just sat there stone-faced. None of the jokes, stereotypical or not, were landing. It’s not because people were offended or didn’t understand what was going on; it’s literally that the jokes weren’t funny. The show brought out a classic: “two Jews, three opinions” <hold for laughs>, but not a single giggle was heard from the audience.
The second half felt like we were observing a focus group. The cast sat around the table exchanging stories and experiences (most of which were shocking and downright harrowing). Those in a public sphere (politicians, actors) are subject to incredible amount of online abuse. It’s sad, and it needs to be heard, but nothing about it adds up to a cohesive play.
The saddest part of it is that those who should really hear and understand all of this aren’t going to come see the show…
The highlights of the night were Steve Furst, Debbie Chazen, and Hemi Yeroham. With each of them representing multiple people, they were the ones who made this distinction the cleanest. For most of the rest of the cast we had to rely on the names being displayed on the back wall to know who is who.
I think this production is not dissimilar to “Dogs of Europe” in a sense that it covers a really important topic, but the theatrical value of the production isn’t as great as you hope it would be (and/or could’ve been given its fairly strong cast).
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £0.
Bonus: Pretty sure I saw Jay Rayner in the audience…