Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, June 2011

24 June, 2011

“For vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood. The date is expired, the time will come, and he will fetch me”. Thus speaks Faust in the final scene. The scholars seek to save him, but the clock strikes eleven and he has but one hour to live before being carried off by the fiends of hell.

Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles, all photos by Keith Pattison

Yet in those four-and-twenty years there were good times a-plenty, spent with Mephistopheles his comrade in magic and trickery. Eventually Faust conjures up Helen of Troy to save him, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss”.

Good angel, bad angel and Faust

The famous phrase that starts this plea for life eternal is Christopher Marlowe’s. He is the author of this play that mixes comedy with scenes of serious intent, as when we see the torture of Giordano Bruno, whose bloodied body is punched on stage, before one of his eyes is gouged out. This is the Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who went beyond the Copernican view of the solar system to see the earth as just one inhabited planet in a mighty universe, and was badly mauled by the Church of Rome. His treatment served as a useful warning to Galileo who felt compelled to recant his scientific views in 1632, knowing full well that Bruno had been burned at the stake in the year 1600. Galileo was born the same year as Christopher Marlowe (1564), but Marlowe died in 1593, infamously killed in a brawl. Yet here in this play, possibly performed by the Lord Admiral’s Men in 1588, we see the beginning of the end for Bruno. And while Marlowe shows us a great scholar being abused on stage, he also allows that great fictional scholar, Faust to make a fool of the Pope. He and Mephistopheles impersonate some visiting cardinals, creating enormous confusion, and with Mephistopheles’ help Faust becomes invisible so as to play games with the Pope and his henchmen.

Wagner stands by as Faust opens the magical book

Then there are the magical transformations, where people are turned into stags, apes and dogs — all wittily done, and the appearance of the Seven Deadly Sins is an occasion for enormous fun. At one point, Faust is decapitated by someone wielding a sword, yet he suddenly reconnects his head, terrifying his opponents. This production by Matthew Dunster delivers an array of magical effects, helped by Paul Wills’s excellent designs. There are giant figures from hell, along with ordinary folk caught up in the action, and I loved the costumes for this Rabelaisian world of characters, including a good angel, a bad angel, Lucifer the prince of hell, the Pope, cardinals, and heaps more.

Richard Clews as Dick with monsters from hell

Paul Hilton as Doctor Faustus and Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles were suitably energetic and well matched, even to the extent of looking almost identical, and in the less major parts I liked Felix Scott as Faust’s servant, Wagner, and Pearce Quigley’s comic timing as Robin. The diction was good, though when the delightful looking Beatriz Romilly first rushed on stage as the good angel, I understood not a word she was saying, but things warmed up later and the clarity of speech was fine, at least from my seat in the middle balcony. As for the crowd in the standing area, they looked to be in rapt attention at this entertainment, watching a sparkling performance of Christopher Marlowe’s most well-known play for a mere five pounds. Better value cannot be had in London.

Performances continue until October 2 — for details click here.

Yes, Prime Minister, Richmond Theatre, June 2011

14 June, 2011

In an interesting essay in the programme, based on his experience in government and the civil service, Bernard Donoughue makes the observation that “Sir Humphrey’s Rolls-Royce machine” is “no longer running Whitehall as smoothly as earlier”. Could this be why Sir Humphrey, as portrayed by Simon Williams, seemed less coolly in command than I expected, though I liked Richard McCabe’s Jim Hacker with his eloquent facial expressions? As the other two main characters, Chris Larkin was suitably constipated as Bernard Woolley the PPS, and Charlotte Lucas was brilliantly in control as Claire Sutton, the PM’s Special Policy Advisor, but the plot was a bit thin.

Simon Williams and Richard McCabe

Jim Hacker is hosting a weekend conference of EU leaders, and Kumranistan is offering an interest-free ten trillion dollar loan to the EU to get it out of financial difficulties. The payment will come in the form of huge oil revenues based on a special premium price, but to give the British this diplomatic coup, the foreign minister of Kumranistan requires the services of an under-age schoolgirl. Confusion all round, added to which the BBC is doing a one-hour government documentary the same weekend. The pressure is on, and there are some good lines, such as when Hacker calls the BBC a bunch of ‘posturing opportunists’, and when — after the schoolgirl issue has burst — Hacker gives the Kumranistan ambassador ’48 hours to get to Heathrow’, and he responds, ‘What do you think I am — a snail?’ But the humour seemed a bit laboured, and the right comic timing was lacking.

There should be more spontaneity, or at least the appearance of it, but the only real piece of spontaneity came when the lights went out in Act I, due to a technical fault, and Simon Williams coolly said, ‘Night seems to be drawing in’. Well done indeed, and the actors quietly left the stage. When the lights came back on we heard them being recalled to stage, and after the interval things seemed to warm up, but the Rolls-Royce machine of creators Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn never quite seemed to get into gear.

Performances at the Richmond Theatre continue until Saturday, June 18 — for details click here. This production then moves to the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End for a ten week run from July 6.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Chichester Festival Theatre (now at the Haymarket), June 2011

1 June, 2011

To the question of whether, if God is good and omnipotent why does evil exist, the answer is free will. But is free will illusory? As Guildenstern says, ‘… if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we’d know that we were lost’. Indeed they are lost. Opportunities arise, but they see themselves as small players in a bigger drama they don’t understand, unable to influence larger events. On the ship to England, they could destroy the letter they accidentally open, yet they don’t, not even to save Hamlet’s life. These minor characters from Shakespeare are twin axes around which Tom Stoppard’s thought-provoking play turns, and they were superbly played by Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker — or was it the other way round?

Jamie Parker as Guildenstern and Samuel Barnett as Rosencrantz, all photos by Catherine Ashmore

The play itself is riveting, philosophical, and very funny. I love the coin tossing at the start, with 92 heads in a row. ‘Consider: One, probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now held within un‑, sub- or super-natural forces. Discuss’. Thus speaks Jamie Parker’s articulate Guildenstern. Samuel Barnett’s thoughtful Rosencrantz is also no slouch with his, ‘Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? … I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality’. Yet both of these spontaneously ready fellows articulate a sort of nonsense, counterbalancing the apparent nonsense spoken by Hamlet, which they try to explain, ‘I think I have it. A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself/ Or just as mad/ Or just as mad/ And he does both/ So there you are/ Stark raving sane’. Their subject, Hamlet, is nobly portrayed by Jack Hawkins, effortlessly reaching heights of free will to which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cannot aspire.

Stoppard’s play is clever and intellectual, but above all it’s wonderful theatre. The players, led by Chris Andrew Mellon, who has replaced Tim Curry, give a hyper-theatrical contrast to the confused quasi-intellectualism of the two main characters, and Mellon himself is superbly quick and ready in his responses.

R and G on board the ship

A friend said she’d love to see this Stoppard play again and take her teenage son, who’s never seen Hamlet. Quite right — you don’t need to know Hamlet to appreciate this quick-witted theatre, beautifully brought to life in Trevor Nunn’s production, well aided by Tim Mitchell’s lighting. Scene changes take place invisibly, right under our noses, and I loved the spot-lights on the faces of R and G just before and just after the interval. There was a perfection about this entire staging, with Simon Higlett’s clever but simple designs, and Fotini Dimou’s excellent costumes. Not to be missed.

Performances at Chichester continue until June 11 — for more details click here. This production then transfers to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End, with previews starting on June 16.

All’s Well That Ends Well, Globe Theatre, London, May 2011

8 May, 2011

A young Count, Bertram is brought up in the same household as Helena, a doctor’s daughter he has neither courted nor encouraged. She loves him, is desperate to marry him, and his mother favours the match, but his adamant refusal is over-ruled by the king, so he leaves home, and we should sympathise with him. Yet we don’t. Shakespeare gives us a most dislikeable character, unnecessarily brutal in his rejection of a fine young woman who has miraculously cured the king’s sickness.

Ellie Piercy as Helena with Sam Cox as the king, all photos by Ellie Kurttz

On the other hand, Helena herself is hard to love. She is no Juliet — I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange — for though wedded to him, she is yet a stranger and her cunning hoists him on his own petard. He writes a letter saying, When thou canst get the ring upon my finger which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband: but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never’, yet this clever woman, who performed a miracle on the king, produces another on her husband. Using the ‘bed-trick’ she gets another well-born young woman to promise to lie with him at night, acquire his ring, and then substitutes herself.

Colin Hurley as Lavatch with Janie Dee as the Countess

Although Shakespeare’s title yields one of the most well-known aphorisms in English, this play itself is little performed. The young couple are unsympathetic and occlude their meanings in a plethora of prodoses and apodoses, continuing even to the end as Bertram says to the king, If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly/ I’ll love her dearly ever, ever, dearly, to which she responds, If it appear not plain and prove untrue . . . To these quasi-endearments the king finishes by saying, All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,/ The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.

James Garnon as Parolles

The king — the lynch pin of this play — was superbly portrayed by Sam Cox, with noble bearing and fine diction yet still with a subtle comedic touch. In fact the wittiness of this production by John Dove came over well, aided particularly by James Garnon as Bertram’s friend Parolles, a braggart and coward, and with Colin Hurley as Lavatch, the fool in the Countess’s household. She, the mother of Bertram, was vividly played by Janie Dee, exhibiting life and good sense in the same measure as her son lacked it. Her affection for Ellie Pearcy’s well drawn portrayal of Helena helped give us some sympathy for this rather too clever young woman, who was well matched by Naomi Cranston as the shrewd young Diana who apparently seduces Bertram. He of course is not to be favoured by the audience, but Sam Crane portrayed his unlikeability mainly as diffidence, and his speeches were often a string of words generating little sense, with a voice that could not be clearly heard when he turned his back to the audience. But the cast as a whole did a superb job of bringing this strange comedy to life, and their dancing on stage when the play was over allowed all the characters but one to show rhythm and sparkle.

Well worth all the effort of those rehearsals, this production continues until August 21 — for more details click here.

Derek Jacobi as King Lear, Richmond Theatre, April 2011

3 April, 2011

From the first moments of irascible folly to the final moments of grief as he cradles the body of his dearest Cordelia, Derek Jacobi’s Lear came alive on stage in a way that made this relatively long play seem to race past in no time.

The production by Michael Grandage, touring from the Donmar, uses an almost bare stage to concentrate our minds on the characters and their interactions. Christopher Oram’s set of tall slats making an open box of the stage emphasised the immense proportion of the drama in which each character is in one way or another a victim. Wonderful lighting  design by Neil Austin — I loved the silhouettes as Lear is seated to await his meeting with Cordelia — and a terrific soundscape by Adam Cork helped bring atmosphere without ever overpowering the action. The heralding of the storm by lighting and sound created a sense of bleakness that moved the play forward to the next stage without losing any of the tension between Lear and his nasty elder daughters.

These ladies were coolly and cleverly played by Gina McKee as Goneril, and Justine Mitchell as Regan. When Regan puts Lear’s old servant in the stocks, and even more when her husband gouges out Gloucester’s eyes, Ms. Mitchell combined elegant beauty with cool sadism — superb acting. The third sister, Cordelia, was beautifully played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, and her dark skin colour compared to her two sisters suggested a Cinderella-like fiction that her sisters are step-sisters. In fact there is a Jewish story about a man who asked his three daughters to declare their love for him, and while the first two say they love him “as much as diamonds”, and “as much as gold and silver”, the third one declares she loves him “the way meat loves salt”. He throws her out, she becomes a servant and the Cinderella part of the story starts.

This more complicated story was beautifully acted by the whole cast. Tom Beard as Albany was calmly authoritative as he faced down Alec Newman’s Edmund at the end, and Newman himself showed nefarious intent throughout the play by his body language, making me wonder that the other characters did not see through it and look beyond his words. Paul Jesson was a wonderfully sympathetic Gloucester, but it was Jacobi’s Lear that overwhelmed my sympathies, and made this a truly great performance.

This Donmar production has already been to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and the Lowry, Salford. After Richmond its tour continues to the Theatre Royal at Bath, April 5–9; and Hall for Cornwall in Truro, April 12–16.

The House of Atreus, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, March 2011

1 April, 2011

Imagine a Greek theatre director adapting three of Shakespeare’s history plays into a single evening’s show. And imagine he did it by inserting new words and ideas into the original. How would you feel?

It’s not an idle question, because that’s exactly what Richard Twyman and Paul O’Mahoney have done with three Greek plays: Iphigeneia at AulisAgamemnon, and Elektra. The second is by Aeschylus, the other two by Euripides. The programme also credits Sophocles with the third one, but in fact this performance is based on Euripides in which Elektra lives with a farmer, rather than in the palace as she does in the Sophocles version.

Olivia Ross and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Klytemnestra and Agamemnon, photo by Clive Barda

It’s worth noting that when these plays were written the stories they tell were already part of ancient myth. The Trojan War was hundreds of years in the past, and although this production is in modern costume, which is fine, it’s not so acceptable to insert a lot of modern vernacular in the context of ancient ideas about human sacrifice and honouring the gods. Such distortion of the original is a dangerous game, and I wonder what the point is. Certainly the whole thing was defiantly modern to the extent that in the last play, Agamemnon’s name was scrawled on a wall opposite Elektra’s hut, and written in modern Greek, rather than ancient Greek — what was the point of that?

In the first play there were boxes labelled hellfire missiles, which is fine in a modern context, but this gutted version of the play made Agamemnon — nobly portrayed by Ben Lloyd-Hughes — appear too weak and indecisive, as it omitted the huge build-up of tension while the army stayed becalmed and frustrated in port. When Klytemnestra appears, saying, “If someone could see their way to helping me with our luggage . . .” her words seem odd in the context, and that’s what I mean by inserting modern vernacular. The much repeated phrase, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is a neat aphorism, but more Shakespeare than Euripides.

It was a similar story with the other plays, and the oft repeated, “Count no man happy before he’s dead” is just not right. This originally comes from the reply Solon of Athens gave to King Croesus of Lydia when asked whether he, Croesus wasn’t the happiest man Solon had ever met. The response was, “He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, in my judgment, is entitled to bear the name happy”. Sophocles, in Oedipus the King, used Solon’s reported words to create a brilliant line of lapidary compactness with which to end his play, “And none can be called happy until that day when he carries his happiness to the grave in peace”. Rather different from the brief line Twyman and O’Mahoney have created.

Despite criticising the adaptation, some of the acting in this student production was very good. I’ve mentioned Agamemnon already, and I liked both Olivia Ross as Klytemnestra and Rachael Deering as Elektra. Laurent de Montalambert came over strongly as Achilles, and Mabel Clements was happily enthusiastic as Iphigeneia, yet strongly determined when she decided to sacrifice herself. The determination suits her name, which means ‘born strong’ in ancient Greek, an epithet applied to Artemis, the goddess who transports her away, replacing her with a deer at the last second.

The direction was very effective at the end when Orestes kills his mother Klytemnestra — it was a nastily convincing murder — but that does not exculpate this bowdlerised combination of three plays. The work of those ancient Greek playwrights has crossed twenty-four centuries or so — a herald of excellence in itself — is that not good enough for us? Why tamper with them?

Cause Célèbre, The Old Vic, London, March 2011

30 March, 2011

A young man kills his lover’s husband in a fit of jealousy. Should he hang? This is 1935 when the death penalty was mandatory for a murder conviction of this sort but the public was unduly sympathetic because the wife, Alma had carried on with him under her husband’s roof, and presumably wanted her husband, Francis Rattenbury out of the way. He was not an altogether nice man — after leaving his first wife he had the heat and lights turned off in their home, and flaunted his affair with his future second wife, the 27-year old Alma Pakenham.

The husband’s nasty streak is, however, not the point in this Rattigan play, which deals with the illicit relationship between Alma and her chauffeur, along with the court case, a cause célèbre in 1935. This frames everything towards the end, allowing us to see what really happened. Times have changed, of course, but the public’s prurient interest in personal scandal is timeless, and well expressed in this, Rattigan’s last play.

Anne-Marie Duff, photos by Johan Persson

Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury was utterly convincing as a charmingly batty woman who lived life to the full. She probably wasn’t very bright, saying in court that she had no sex with her husband because, “the flesh was willing but the spirit was weak”, but then her lover was none too bright either, thinking he could get off by claiming to be on cocaine. The brightest person in the play is probably O’Connor the barrister, brilliantly played by Nicholas Jones. Add to that Niamh Cusack as Edith Davenport, portraying a fiercely judgemental woman who became the leader of the jury, and Lucy Robinson as her friend Stella Morrison, who takes a large, ultimately losing bet on the outcome, and here was the germ of a superb cast. Ms. Robinson’s cut glass accent was absolutely of the time, and Niamh Cusack was convincingly earnest in her possessive relationship with her son, her strict avoidance of her estranged husband, and her jury role as a key player in the verdict. These wonderful actors allowed Anne-Marie Duff to carry off the role of the adorable and infuriating Alma with tremendous spirit.

Niamh Cusack with Simon Chandler as her estranged husband

At the time of these events, Alma was 39 and her lover was 18, though in this production he looked older than that. The large age difference was one of the things that shocked the public, who saw her as the dominant partner. But as Rattigan’s Alma points out to the judge, it’s the younger person who has control in this situation. Thirty-nine can be a desperate age for some women, and had the age difference been the other way, the home secretary might not have intervened after the sentence. As it was the young chauffeur lived “a quiet life” until he died in 2000, aged 83.

The director, Thea Sharrock was also responsible for the National Theatre’s excellent revival of Rattigan’s After the Dance last year, and here again we have a fine production with designs by Hildegard Bechtler. I loved the lighting by Bruno Poet, which at times brought various characters from darkness to light, and vice versa — this was particularly good during the court scenes because the Old Vic is a cavernous theatre with a huge stage, and the lighting helped to create a useful intimacy.

The play runs until June 11 — for more information, click here for more details on the Old Vic’s website.

Anna Karenina, Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London, March 2011

22 March, 2011

Those who have read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina will remember her falling under the train. They may also remember her lover Vronsky, and the upper class world that rejects her, at least until she’s divorced. Karenin, her husband and a statesman many years older than her, refuses a divorce despite the fact that she has left home. Her son has been told she’s dead, and Anna’s story of slow destruction is contrasted with that of her brother’s old friend Levin. He sowed his wild oats many years ago and now wishes for the tranquillity of life in the country, managing his estates and marrying Kitty, younger sister to Anna’s sister-in-law Dolly. Kitty once loved Vronsky, but she got over it . . . eventually. Recovery and destruction are twin themes of the story, and this play brings both to a sudden conclusion at the end.

Tristan Pate as Levin, Elizabeth Twells as Anna, all photos by Farrows Creative

At 800 pages, Tolstoy’s novel — one of the greatest ever written — is a challenge to put on stage, but this adaptation by Helen Edmundson covers the main points of the story rather well, and the staging by The Piano Removal Company and Snapdragon Productions is remarkable. It gets off to a hugely physical start as Anna is roused from sleep by a faceless man. This and other elemental forces of nature, their heads swathed in black cloth, reappear throughout the performance. The black-headed characters are silent, but the actors in costume create disturbing noises from time to time, illustrating the internal turmoil of those around them . . . and then there’s the movement and dance.

Elizabeth Twells was a luminous Anna, and she must have had serious dance training or she could not have maintained her postures through the lifts, nor indeed have done a sequence of coupé jetés at one point. In fact the movement from the whole cast was wonderfully well synchronised, and well reflected the disturbed feelings of the characters, particularly Anna. By contrast, Tristan Pate was a solid, well-grounded Levin, entirely convincing in his desire for normality, and his flirting with suicide, which he knows to be stupid. He and Anna communicate across the stage, despite being in separate worlds, helping to create dramatic tension.

Andy Rush, Elizabeth Twells and Adam Alexander as Vronsky, Anna and Karenin

The performance took place in the theatre’s Studio 1, a large cavernous space in what must have once been a cellar. The actors themselves moved the simple props and created new scenes, one after another, playing multiple small parts, all helped by simple but very effective lighting by Penny Gaize. Max Webster’s direction kept the action moving seamlessly from one scene to another, and aside from the main protagonists, Anna and Levin, I particularly liked Sophie Walker as Dolly, and Maryann O’Brien as Kitty.

In the end, the train, created by a few actors and two lamps, was superbly dramatic, and its juxtaposition with the birth of Kitty’s baby formed a glorious ending. Death and new birth — a reminder that the point of life is life itself.

Performances continue until April 16 — for more details click here.

Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London’s West End, March 2011

11 March, 2011

“Don’t worry, skipper will get us home again . . . and you have to pretend you’re not afraid”, so speaks the tail gunner, a role that Terence Rattigan himself played for real in World War II. This play is based on his own experience, and gives a fine understanding of the tensions that the bomber crews were up against. It’s a representation of how ordinary folk could rise to heights of selflessness while retaining their sense of humour until . . . well, until they die or perhaps just snap. Its guiding theme is understatement, well counterbalanced by the arrival of an ex-pat from America, a famous actor named Peter Kyle.

James Purefoy and Sienna Miller

The women portrayed their roles superbly. Sienna Miller was wonderfully natural as the actress and wife of Flight Lieutenant (Teddy) Graham, and Sheridan Smith was superbly robust as the Countess (Doris), wife of a Polish airman. With Emma Handy as the wife of the Flight Sergeant, visiting him for one night, and Sarah Crowden as the hotel keeper, both gloriously down-to-earth and charmless, the women managed the understatement as if they were to the manner born. The men were a bit more variable. Harry Hadden-Paton as Teddy seemed just a bit over the top, with his bonhomie appearing slightly unnatural, and although James Purefoy came over as gutlessly charming in portraying the actor Peter Kyle, his later despair at losing Teddy’s wife seemed a bit forced. The Polish airman, played by Mark Dexter, lacked a Polish accent, and appeared a bit stupid, contradicting Teddy’s continued assertions that he was “good value”. On the other hand, Joe Armstrong as the Flight Sergeant was as down-to-earth as his wife, and Clive Wood as the Squadron leader was outstanding. He exhibited a glorious tendency to effeteness, and was so natural you felt he’d just stepped in from the past.

Sheridan Smith as Doris, all photos by Johan Persson

The use of occasional music from the 1940s was just right, and the set and costume designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis gave a great feeling of authenticity. This was enhanced enormously by the film sequences of bombers taking off, with very realistic sound effects. At the end of the play things came together as if by accident, which speaks well of this production by Trevor Nunn, but the first half seemed to go rather too slowly, getting nowhere very fast.

Final dénouement with Joe Armstrong, Clive Wood, Mark Dexter and Harry Hadden-Paton

In this centenary year of Rattigan’s birth his plays are popping up all over the place, and are all well worth seeing. Performances of Flare Path continue until June 4 — for more details click here.

Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2011

15 February, 2011

On February 25, 1994 the Jewish festival of Purim fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein assassinated worshippers in the mosque over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The significance of the religious holy days is noted in the play, and it’s also worth remarking that while Ramadan is governed by the Islamic calendar, which moves back by about eleven days each year, Purim is dated by the Jewish calendar and is always in March or late February. It does not normally occur during Ramadan. But that is not the only significant aspect of the date, because in 1993 Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords on behalf of Israel, and tensions were high. He was assassinated in 1995.

After the 1994 massacre, the Israeli government formed a commission of enquiry to determine whether Goldstein acted alone or with accomplices, and that’s where Jason Sherman starts, and ends, his play. Its main protagonist, however, is a Canadian Jew named Nathan Abramowitz, who is on a personal mission to criticise Israel and recover some self-respect for his own somewhat-lapsed Jewishness. His mother wonders why he won’t bring his sons to the Passover Seder, and won’t he please arrive a little earlier to give her a hand, particularly with so many guests coming!

Abramowitz is confused, manic, and unconsciously angry with aspects of his own life. He goes to Israel, for the first time, and appears before the committee, with his head in the clouds, saying that “Israel is an abstraction”. Is he crazy? Yes, but not dangerous, like Goldstein who was playing out something from ancient Jewish history. It was Purim, explained in the book of Esther. She, whose name is the same as the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar, forestalls the planned annihilation of the Jews in Babylonia. Those who read the story will meet Mordecai, whose name is taken from the chief god of Babylon, Marduk. These things are deep with significance, and deeply significant things can lead to murderous actions.

Abramowitz, however, is shallow, though very well played by David Antrobus, ably supported by the rest of the cast: Peter Guinness, Ben Nathan, Amber Agha and Esther Ruth Elliot, playing numerous parts. I particularly liked Ben Nathan, but everyone did well in this intense portrayal of human interactions, directed by Sam Walters. There were some wonderful moments, such as one of Abramowitz’s children saying, “You can feel compassion for people half way around the world, but you can’t feel it for people half way across the room!”

Ben Nathan with David Antrobus as Abramowitz

There is no interval, the action is non-stop, the telephone keeps ringing, but somehow the history comes through, as when Abramowitz’s mother calls him and talks trivialities, but occasionally mentions Hebron: once to say Abraham bought a cave there, again to say the Muslims built a mosque over the cave, and again to mention the massacre. The Passover Seder, with the four sons, also helps in giving a thread through the action, and various well-known people appear at the table, and one of them says to Abramowitz, “You think you’re the wise son, but you’re the son who does not even know how to ask a question”.

This production is well suited to the intimacy of the Orange Tree Theatre, and performances continue until March 12 — for more details click here.