by Joshua Harmon.
St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA To 28 February 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 284 2140.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 January.
Bad Jews, fine drama, splendid comedy.
It’s a theatre for all seasons – Bath’s Ustinov Studio (part of the Theatre Royal) has produced autumn and spring threesomes under Lawrence Boswell’s leadership which have done a great amount to enrich the English theatre scene. Add a series of fine Christmas productions (in The Egg, only a door’s-width away from the Ustinov), and only summer was left to conquer.
That happened last year, when Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, from Off-Broadway, lit-up the south-west’s summer. It’s becoming a matter of course that Ustinov shows transfer to London, and the St James has scooped another success with a domestic comedy that’s also a family drama with wider ramifications. Cousins Jonah and Liam share a New York apartment, with a bathroom that has a splendid view of the Hudson river but – it emerges comically – thin walls.
Similar contrasts of prospect and practicality arise in family matters. The (unseen) older generation still hedge-in the new, making for awkwardness when Daphna arrives, let alone when Liam brings his girl-friend Meliody, a blonde gentile – though not, it emerges, so gentle as at first seems. A pretty girl, and a music student, Melody’s singing, provoked by contrastingly dark-curled and upfront Daphna (who turns-out to have an underlying vulnerability formed from the determined Jewish tradition that also fuels her ferocity), has a natural sweetness disfigured by inartistic technique.
Harmon works through contrasts and revelations, which never seem false, and makes matters funnier through the serious symbol at the centre: the chai which granddad Poppy preserved through the Nazi camps. For Daphna it’s to be guarded as a symbol of Jewish identity, while Liam offers it as a love-token to Melody. At which point this continuously hilarious piece is not far removed from the point examined in Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle – the claims on property of tradition and current use.
Harmon couldn’t hope for better than this production, where all four actors have a brilliant individuality, from Jenny Augen’s vocal Daphna to Joe Coen’s Jonah, who makes sitting on the sidelines forcibly register. They’re fused into one glorious flow by Michael Longhurst’s detailed, yet unfussy direction.
Daphna: Jenny Augen.
Melody: Gina Bramhill.
Jonah: Joe Coen.
Liam: Ilan Goodman.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Singing tutor: Louise Shepherd.
Associate director: Jon Pashley.
Associate lighting: George Seal.