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The Barrier, Park Theatre – Review

Sally Llewellyn 
Directed by Kirrie Wratten  

Pros: The set, lighting and audio enhance the performance. The program is full of interesting reading, adding a lot of context to the show. There is a good amount of on-stage action, so the audience sees what is happening.

Cons: The story is very simple, especially given the subject matter. The dialogue felt contrived, and the delivery is a bit melodramatic.

Our Verdict: Conceptually this story is interesting. Unfortunately, it does not translate to the stage and feels more like an episode of a soapie.

Credit: Simon Annand

I showed the play’s program to my housemate, who is Jewish. Looking at the title and the photo of the orthodox Jewish man on the front, he asked if it was about the security and separation barrier currently being constructed in Israel to protect civilians from Palestinian terrorism.

No, not exactly. It’s about a security light.

Shalev (Toby Liszt) and his wife Malka (Dominique Gerrard) have moved into a new house. They are strict orthodox Hasidic Jews. Their neighbours, Cas (Antonia Davies) and Sam (Jack Pierce) are not. Each Friday night, on the holy day of Shabbos, Shalev and Malka are forbidden to engage in any creative work, including switching on electricity. But the family keep accidentally triggering Cas and Sam’s outside security light. Cas is not prepared to remove the light for the sake of her neighbour’s religious beliefs, and the drama revolves around this neighbourly quarrel.

The barrier of the title is a two-metre wall Shalev installs to block the light from his property to avoid being condemned by God. Though I’m sure comparisons could be made between this drama and the aforementioned situation in Israel, based on the simple script and one-dimensional characters, I don’t think such an association was ever the intention.

Instead it is more like watching an episode of Neighbours. Ramsay Street in Erinsborough has been replaced with a residential street in Stamford Hill, London. There is even a scene in a coffee shop, which, much like the famous soapie, sees a number of characters running into each other by coincidence.

I thought the situation with the security light might have been the first of many conflicts between the new neighbours. But when at the start of the second act they were still trying to reach a resolution about the light, I started wondering whether this play was in fact only about a security light. There is a little bit of character development towards the end when the female characters’ emotions get the better of them. But peace is quickly restored.

The content in the play’s program captures the complexity of the subject matter better than the drama unfolding on stage. As well as the cast profiles and headshots, there is a fascinating feature article about the lifestyles and practices of strictly orthodox Jews. There is also a ‘word on the street’ spread, highlighting the points of view of people within the Haredi (those who ‘fear or tremble’ before God) community, as well as ‘outsiders’ looking in.

A Hasidic blogger describes his community as displaying ‘immense warmth and self-reliance, with an extraordinary level of philanthropy, that instils a powerful sense of identity.’ By comparison Christina Patterson, in an article originally featured in The Independent, writes, ‘when I see an eight-year-old boy recoiling from a normal-looking woman (because, presumably, he has been taught that she is dirty, or dangerous, or, heaven forbid, dripping with menstrual blood) it makes me sad.’

Though The Barrier explored some of these ideas – Cas’s mother falls in the street and the orthodox Jewish men do not come to her aid, and Shalev avoids eye contact with Cas during their first meeting ­– they were handled in such a melodramatic and deliberate way I couldn’t work out the point of the play. Not that there needs to be social commentary in every artistic work, but without it this play fails to create a platform for meaningful discussion.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Barrier runs at Park Theatre until 20th October 2013.
Box Office: 020 7870 6876 or book online at parktheatre.co.uk

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