15 August 2023
THE ARC (Soho Theatre) Review
This is a triple bill of brand new short “Jewish” plays from Emanate Productions, directed by Kayla Feldman. I put “Jewish” in quotes because, whilst the tone and interpersonal dynamics here were undeniably Jewish, I reckon a fair few other cultures would be able to easily see themselves in these plays. Broadly speaking, the first play is about the great divide between generations, the second one is about the difficulty of dating, and the third one is about coping with death, all of which are fairly universal. The plays are meant to reference various parts of life, but the connection is tenuous at best. I wished there was a common thread weaved into them somehow. Also, the cast of 7 could’ve been easily reduced to 4, which would’ve made it tighter. (Both Emanate artistic co-directors also act in one play each, so, perhaps, that had something to do with it.)
Birth by Amy Rosenthal
By far the funniest of the set, it is also the most difficult to relate to (at least I thought so anyway). An elderly couple (Nigel Planer as irritable Michael and Caroline Gruber as babbling Lynda) have just sent everyone home from their 50th anniversary party when a belated guest (Dorothea Myer-Bennett as fumbling Naomi) shows up. Turns out that Naomi isn’t there for the party; instead, she has come to hash things out with Michael who, it seems, delivered her into this world half a century ago (incidentally Myer-Bennett does not look anywhere near 50).
This isn’t an absurdist play as such, but things that come out of Naomi’s mouth are fairly absurd. I was laughing hard, but for all the wrong reasons I fear. It wasn’t possible to relate to any of the characters, and my laugher was more about the clever lines than quality acting… One of the better lines was, “she’s not an ax murderer, she brought a lovely plant”, but it was Michael’s suggestion that Naomi’s arguments were “a shimmering platter of bollox on toast” sent the audience roaring with laughter. There was also an unnecessary reference to the Holocaust: it was very crude, and I struggle to see how any person trying to make Michael’s point would every say it quite like that.
Rosenthal has Michael throw in a few Yiddish words at the start of the play, but they feel tacked on to give the play its “Jewishness” because there is nothing else culturally-specific in this play. That’s pretty disappointing… Planer was excellent I think. Gruber could’ve been very good, but her character simply didn’t have enough room to stretch, further hindered by a confusing ending.
Marriage by Alexis Zegerman
A cringy piece about first dates. Sam Thorpe-Spinks is Adrian, an awkward young doctor who still feels his Jewish roots quite deeply despite his claims to the contrary. Abigail Weinstock is Eva, a stand-offish fashion exec looking for her Mr. Right. As if any first date isn’t uncomfortable enough, this one is further hampered by one Godfrey (Planer again), a meddling gent one table, and an obnoxious waitress (Myer-Bennett again).
The awkwardness is there alright, but it felt like both Thorpe-Spinks and Weinstock, though to a somewhat lesser degree, were just going through the motions. The text suggests that the characters are at least meant to try, if unsuccessfully, to have a sensible date, but it felt like both characters called it quits the second they came in, but had to remain at the table and recite their lines. Planer’s Godfrey was a bit ridiculous, so not much he could do there. The waitress may’ve supposed to be a caricature, but the play would’ve been just as good (or, perhaps, just as bad) she wasn’t even there.
Death by Ryan Craig
Comedy gold from Weinstock, whose Leah is sitting down with her brother Adam (Dan Wolff) to make arrangements for their grandmother’s funeral. Before the afternoon is over, however, the conversation moves on to the death of another family member. Weinstock is incredibly funny in her tone of voice and mannerisms. Wolff is stiff and nervy, which is a little bit at odds with the text. The duo is later joined by their father (massively underused Adrian Schiller), who is there to provide context, but is entirely pointless.
On balance, it’s a fun bit of theatre: it was certainly an enjoyable evening. But, although a lot of the text is funny, every last one of the characters is incredibly weak. Perhaps 20-25 minutes is just too short for a cohesive story…
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £4.