Pros: The costumes and set; the period atmosphere; the dynamic fun throughout; a strong cast.
Cons: A bit slow to start; occasionally edging on farcical once the play does picks up pace.
Treasure is the best-known play of David Plinski, a pioneer of Yiddish theatre. Plinksi was a Russian-born Jew who travelled through Europe, before arriving in America in 1899 where he produced work that reached Broadway and the world.
Treasure’s plot is fairly straightforward. There is family, prayers and money, all tinted in witty humor and a pinch of sarcasm. The pay is set in the Russian Plain in circa 1900, at the home of Chone, the village gravedigger. The story begins with mother Jachne-Braine (the excellent Fiz Marcus) reading out verses of the Torah to her daughter Tille (the sparkling Olivia Bernstone). Tille is clearly bored out of her mind and is only waiting for a funeral to pass by so that she can show herself off to a potential suitor. Understandably, Tille can’t believe her luck when brother Judke (the endearing Sid Sadgar) storms in, having found gold coins whilst digging a grave for his beloved dog. Tired of being talked down because of his disabilities, Judke gives his entire find to Tille, who quickly goes into town and ensures that everyone knows her family is now rich and she is ready to marry a suitor. Little does Tille know that her diamond rings will also tell the world that her family is now ready to share the fortune with everyone. What follows is a clever satire of period Yiddish society. Paupers and rich; clergymen and Presidents of the Congregation, all dancing in a circle around Chone’s home, wanting a slice of the cake.
This production of Treasure is an adaptation by Colin Chambers, of the Royal Shakespeare Society. Chambers’ experience can certainly be felt throughout the play. There are many great aspects of this production, including innovative use of the tiny space and an increasingly dynamic set of events that build into a crescendo of emotions and movement. There are a number of particularly effective scenes, for example, at the core of the play when all the different parties keep coming into poor Chone’s house. The sibling complicity between Tille and Judke and is also striking.
The period costumes by Libby Todd are superb and the stage design by Rebecca Brower makes you really feel the Russian cemetery air. Also laudable is the use of such a variety of characters with an impressive 15-strong cast. The period music during scene changes is effective.
However, the pace is a tad slow to start and some of the family dynamics could be less tangled. There is also a sense that the fine balance between managing a great humorous play and descending into an outright farce is on a knife-edge for most of the second half. Some of the acting is deliberately hysterical, which proves questionable.
Nevertheless, this is enjoyable production at the Finborough Theatre. Treasure provides a glimpse into Russian Jewish life in1900; is a parody of human greed, and provides a couple of hours of guaranteed entertainment.
Indeed, I am always thrilled at the prospect of a night at the Finborough, West London’s fringe jewel. The Finborough’s artistic director, Neil McPherson, has made a habit of resurrecting long forgotten plays and he makes them beautifully. Now that the bar is back to live with a full complement of craft beers, what is there to hold anyone back?
Playwright: David Pinski
Director: Alice Malin
Adaptation by: Colin Chambers
Booking link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2015/treasure.php
Booking until: 14 November