Pros: An amazing set and a highly engaging performance. This play is funny, emotional and thought-provoking.
Cons: The view from the front row is fairly restricted.
Two men meet in an East London Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath designed for spiritual purification. Avi (Jonah Russell) is in his thirties, married and trying for a baby. Eitan (Oliver Coopersmith) is 17 and trying to make sense of his sexuality. Through discussions of life, love and religion, what begins as an acquaintance, develops into something more and both men are forced to consider where their loyalties lie.
The Mikvah Project has an interesting approach to character dialogue, which sets it apart from other plays of this style. Both Avi and Eitan alternate between traditional conversational speech and storytelling in the third person. Internal thoughts are voiced into a microphone, along with some physical stage directions, such as ‘Avi turns to leave’. Scenes with other characters, like Avi’s wife, are also described by the men, as opposed to being witnessed first hand. The technique serves a practical purpose of moving the narrative forward without the need for additional settings or actors. However, I also felt that this approach helped me to empathise with each character’s emotional distraction. For example, the script allowed me to vividly imagine Avi and his wife having dinner, but the lack of visuals meant my focus remained with Eitan and the Mikvah.
The dialogue itself contains a winning blend of light humour and deep emotion, which is expertly delivered by Coopersmith and Russell. Both actors give truly heartfelt performances and I found both characters exceptionally relatable. With only two cast members, The Mikvah Project would be a challenging piece for any actor but Coopersmith and Russell deliver it with apparent ease. Despite juggling a demanding script, complex character journeys, live voice recording and repeated underwater submersion, these guys deliver a staggeringly slick performance from every angle.
Jay Miller’s direction perfectly compliments the script, by subtly shifting the body language and movement of the two characters within the space, as their relationship develops. What begins as an almost awkward meeting at the Mikvah, matures into an intense, passionate and complex relationship. Considering the challenge of presenting this development in just 90 minutes, Miller achieves it with a very natural, steady progression.
As a full size, working pool, the Mikvah itself is one of the most impressive sets I’ve ever seen. As well as offering a metaphor for spiritual cleansing and rebirth, for me, the sheer scale of the Mikvah really helped to reinforce the emotional perspectives of the two men. The play revolves around the pool, both physically and narratively, and I felt that the choice to use such an imposing structure helped to create a shared focus between the characters and the audience. The play uses a subtle yet creative mix of audio-visual techniques. Live voice recordings are layered to create haunting music, whilst lights are manipulated to bounce off to water’s surface, creating wave patterns on the back wall. During key moments, underwater film is also projected onto the wall, creating a mesmerising, dreamlike backdrop.
As a theatregoer, the only potential issue I could find with this production, was the front row seating. During my visit to The Yard, the auditorium was full, with the exception of the front row, which people wisely avoided. Due to the high walls of the Mikvah, it would have been difficult to see the action from these seats, whereas the second row back had a perfect view. Overall though, The Mikvah Project is funny, engaging, moving and thought-provoking. Featuring two highly talented actors and a one-of-a-kind set, this piece is an absolute must see.
Author: Josh Azouz
Director: Jay Miller
Producer: Tamara Moore
Box Office: 07548 156 266
Booking Link: http://www.theyardtheatre.co.uk/event/the-mikvah-project/2015-02-17/
Booking Until: Saturday 14 March 2015