Jews. In Their Own Words by Jonathan Freedland from an idea by Tracy-Ann Oberman. The Royal Court theatre, Sloan Square, London SW1 to 22 October 2022. 4****. William Russell.

Stimulating, enlightening, horrifying and sometimes very funny this look by Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian columnist, starts with some revelations about how Jews have been treated in the past before moving on to interviews he has held with prominent Jews today. It opens with a great in house gag because this is the theatre that had to change the name of a corrupt financier in Al Smith’s Rare Earth Mettle from Hershel Fink once the racism in the name – it was anglicised – was realised far too late in the day. Freedland’s play, if it is one,  opens to a naked man writhing on stage, a cloud suddenly appears overhead and he seeks information as to who he is – God, a woman naturally, tells him. He is Fink. The row that followed led to his name being changed to Henry Finn so in a sense this is the theatre’s apology.

   We learn about Jews in literature from Chaucer to Shakespeare and Dickens and about the legends like they drink the blood of children, one invented in England. The contemporary testimony is moving and covers everything from antisemitism in the Labour Party – there is a great Jeremy Corbin joke from Margaret Hodge – to what happened in pogrums and clearances of Jewish communities around the world, about living with a suitcase already packed because you know what happened in the past can happen again becomes a way of life. It is not so much a play as a performed series of articles  but directors Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield have injected theatrical life into what could essentially be a static series of tiny monologues by creating conversations, staging performances acting out in costume what we have been told, and at one point getting the cast to join in song – a marvellously rousing song It was the Jews Did It.

   The cast perform diligently doubling and trebling roles with with   xx as the Fink conducting much of the evening, Present day testimony comes from the likes of Howard Jacobson , Margaret Hodge, Lucian Berger and Tracy Ann-Oberman, whose idea it was. The press night audience did seem very well tuned to what was going on, in other words it was very Jewish and maybe the piece will get even more powerful when a more mixed audience turns out. It is one thing telling people what they very probably already know, another disclosing to those who don’t things it will appal them to learn. The drinking of the blood of children at rituals  was one revelation – for me at least. The English have given many things to the world and this lie is one of them.

   It is good, political theatre although not much of a play but it probably was never meant to be. It is very much an entertainment  for Guardian readers I suspect – fans of Freedland should flock as he has elicited some good interviews and then crafted the best bits  very well indeed. I always worry about stars – but for all its occasional longeurs and a slight tendency at times to be very much what the enlightened left want to hear it remains something very well worth doing and seeing. It enlightens, it provokes – at least there is a lot to talk about afterwards and that cannot always be said.

Cast – Billy Ashcroft, Debbie Chazen, Louisa Clein, Steve Furst, Rachel-Leah Hosker, Hemi Yeroham, Alex Waldmann.

Co-directors: Vicky Featherstone & Audrey Sheffield.

Designer: Georgia de Grey.

Lighting Designer: Rory Beaton.

Music & Sound Designers: Ben & Max Ringham.

Video Designer: Reuben Cohen.

Movement Director: Adi Gortier.

Musical Director: Candida Caldicott.

Production photograph: Manuel Harlan.

The interviewees were Philip Abrahams, Luciana Berger, Joshua Bitensky, Stephen Bush, Victoria Hart, Margaret Hodge, Howard Jacobson, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Dave Rich, Hannah Rose, Tammy Rothenberg, Edwin Shuker.

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