CLING TO ME LIKE IVY
by Samantha Ellis.
Birmingham Rep tour.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 February at Birmingham Rep Theatre (The Door).
Finely played view of life in a particular community.
Samantha Ellis took her title from the Bible – or should that be the Torah, given the Orthodox Jewish home in London where her new play is set in the early years of the new century? Whatever was worrying other areas of the world in 2004 married Orthodox Jewish women were suddenly worried about the wigs they traditionally wore.
Learning these originated in a Hindu temple they became linked with idol-worship; hairpiece bonfires were orchestrated among Orthodox communities. Out of this, Ellis convincingly develops the impact on bride-to-be Rivka as she examines her relationship with her Orthodox fiancé David.
Less convincingly Ellis tacks on the viewpoint of Rivka’s Hindu friend Leela, for whom the shaving of Hindu women’s heads is an act of humiliation. Leela’s freer lifestyle introduces her friend to Patrick, whose campaign against the demolition of trees in turn introduces Rivka to a new habitation up in the branches, and stirs emotional responses she has never felt with David.
An Orthodox kitchen, with its separate sinks for milk and meat, where the great wig controversy disturbs family traditions and brings new experiences Rivka’s way, is an unusual setting for a coming-of-age drama. The play has an individual tone, to which Sarah Esdaile’s production is consistently sympathetic. There’s the contrast between Emily Holt’s Rivka, body held tense and face often troubled, doubts evidently lying behind many of her early smiles, and the sinuous freedom of movement in Mona Goodwin’s Leela.
Gethin Anthony shows a marked contrast between Patrick as polite interloper in the family kitchen and assertive king of his treetop habitation (aptly created as he invades the family space with a spread-out tree-cloth), while David Hartley gives a measure of reality to the under-developed role of the fiancé.
Among the older generations, Edward Halstead shows the confusion circumstances can bring to a set faith, while the ever-wonderful Amanda Boxer creates a sense of grandmother Malka’s life, and wisdom beneath mundane busy-ness, through little more than a repertoire of waddles and squawks. Throughout Esdaile’s production serves well a play that illuminates life in a sector of society theatre rarely visits.
Patrick: Gethin Anthony.
Malka: Amanda Boxer.
Leela: Mona Goodwin.
Shmuley: Edward Halstead.
David: David Hartley.
Rivka: Emily Holt.
Director: Sarah Esdaile.
Designer: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Simon Bond.
Sound: Clive Meldrum.
Composer: Simon Slater.
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Dramaturg: Caroline Jeater.
Assistant director: Katie Henry.