Pros: Funny dialogue, smart observations and powerful performances from two leads with natural chemistry.
Cons: The lack of nuance and erratic pacing sometimes makes the play difficult to engage with, particularly during moments of revelation.
Europe has a long history of antisemitism. Hatred of Jewish people has existed on the continent for centuries, and is not going away anytime soon. Last week, a survey of European Jews found that nearly a third avoid attending events due to safety fears. In Britain, four out of five believe antisemitism to be a big problem in politics, and nearly a third are considering leaving the country.
Trauma has an impact. From Russian pogroms to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, antisemitic violence is recent history. Following recent terrorist attacks in France and the USA, it is also a current reality. For survivors and their families, these experiences can change their perceptions and their culture. What happens when a person with trauma in their very blood becomes the victim of violence?
One Jewish Boy examines how trauma can change a person, their relationship to the world, and to those they love. The play tells the story of Jesse, a ‘posh’ Jew from North London, and his wife Alex, a less posh, mixed-race woman from Peckham. Jumping back and forward through time, One Jewish Boy shows the couple falling in and out of love, largely as a result of Jesse’s insecurities and anxieties, following a violent attack that changes him forever.
Robert Neumark-Jones (Jesse) and Asha Reid (Alex) are both fantastic and believable. Their interactions feel natural, both exhibiting and embodying all the tenderness and ticks that develop in a relationship over time. Sarah Meadows has done a fine job in getting such performances from her actors. The director’s work is dynamic, creative, and gives both characters plenty of space to explore who they are and where they are going.
All this would not be possible without Stephen Laughton’s tight script. The writing is sharp, with timely references to pop culture and millennial angst, with smartly-observed and funny discussions of white privilege, left-wing politics, Israel, and arguments over who had it worse – the Jews for the Holocaust or Africans for the transatlantic slave trade.
The design team also deserve credit for creating an atmosphere of horror and foreboding. Georgia De Grey’s effective set design features garish graffiti of swastikas and skulls adorning the walls, while rats, a familiar signifier of antisemitism, can be seen scurrying at street level. Benedict Taylor’s compositions are similarly powerful, using eerie electronics to tell of coming trouble.
One Jewish Boy is not without its problems. The time jumps, while helpfully signposted, can sometimes be confusing. This disorientation is not helped by frequent revelations in Jesse and Alex’s story which are awkwardly placed, turning up in conversations that go from trivial to melodramatic in a way that feels unnatural. These questions of fidelity and illegitimacy seem forced and unnecessary, and damaged the relationship’s sense of authenticity and relatability.
One Jewish Boy is nonetheless necessary viewing. The play is sadly relevant at a time when antisemitism is alive and kicking. Far from being limited to far-right extremists, hatred against Jews can be found across social media and political discourse, and has even been normalised to the point of becoming a Halloween costume. The play is a reminder of the physical and psychological damage of antisemitism, and how such trauma can drive people apart.
Author: Stephen Laughton
Director: Sarah Meadows
Producer: Ed Littlewood
Box Office: 0333 012 4963
Booking Link: https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/one-jewish-boy.html
Booking Until: Saturday, January 5 2019