A reviews round-up of Jews. In Their Own Words, at the Royal Court in London.
Debbie Chazen, Louisa Clein, Steve Furst, Rachel-Leah Hosker, Alex Waldmann and Hemi Yeroham star in Jews. In Their Own Words., written by journalist Jonathan Freedland from an idea by Tracy-Ann Oberman.
Jonathan Freedland has used verbatim interviews to expose the roots and damning legacy of antisemitism in Britain – found in the places where you’d least expect it. Different lives, but all marked by the same enduring prejudice.
The show is co-directed by Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield, with design is by Georgia de Grey, with lighting by Rory Beaton, sound design by Ben and Max Ringham, video design by Reuben Cohen and movement direction by Adi Gortler, and the dramaturg is Tommo Fowler.
Jews. In Their Own Words is playing at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 22 October 2022.
More reviews to follow
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Jews. In Their Own Words reviews
"An uneven ‘theatrical inquiry’ into antisemitism"
"Drawing on an idea from the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman — an outspoken commentator on subtle and not so subtle forms of prejudice — Freedland has woven together a brief history of antisemitism alongside extracts from interviews conducted with a dozen Jews, some famous, some just ordinary folk. Seven actors take turns to channel their voices."
"Co-directed by Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield, it’s an uneven piece, sometimes eloquent, sometimes simplistic. (I was invited to a preview, and have been told the script will have evolved before press night.)"
"The actors, including Debbie Chazen and Hemi Yeroham, are uniformly impressive. Steve Furst is particularly persuasive, morphing from the urbane Jacobson to a plain-speaking north London painter and decorator, Phillip Abrahams, who describes an encounter with a shopkeeper who, during lockdown, assures him that Jews are spreading coronavirus in doctored batches of Coca-Cola."
"Appalling revelations in a gallop through centuries of bigotry"
"Jonathan Freedland has turned 180,000 words drawn from interviews into a potent verbatim play about antisemitism and the blindspots of liberal institutions. The results feel urgent – but is its remit simply too large?"
"... directed by Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield, that comes with bold theatricality, songs and wry jokes, albeit underpinned by deadly serious inquiry into how it is that this most ancient form of hate still persists"
"Its theatricality does not always land and feels as if it is trying too hard to give the verbatim form a dramatic edge, enacting medieval mystery style mimes while characters recount the origins of antisemitic tropes, from the myth of the moneylending Jew to the lurid fantasy of blood libel (which ties Jewish ritual with the blood of non-Jewish children)."
"... the drama much more compellingly shows how antisemitism pervades across culture, history and is embedded in language itself."
"No-one who needs to see this will actually go"
"This muddled act of public atonement on the part of the Court is a salutary watch but who is it for?"
"A sketchy history of antisemitic tropes mixed in with verbatim experiences of contemporary Jews, this isn’t really a play. It’s a muddled act of public contrition by the Royal Court for insensitive handling of an offensive gaffe last year."
"There’s a vaudevillian number, It Was the Jews That Did It, complete with a chorus line. These parts feel like an undergraduate revue. It didn’t help that critics had to see early previews of JITOW after the National Theatre high-handedly gazumped the Court’s planned press night. On the Saturday matinee I saw, the piano wasn’t working. But frankly, I doubt further running in of the production – jointly directed by Audrey Sheffield and Court boss Vicky Featherstone on an almost bare stage – will have much improved things."
"A triumphant riff on antisemitism"
"Jonathan Freedland's play is both original and yet an all too familiar story"
"Jews. In Their Own Words provides a concise, thoughtful, damn-near comprehensive guide to the key themes underlying antisemitism – money, the blood libel, power, Israel and so on – in a riveting, inventive and creative way. And as such, it’s the perfect mechanism for explaining antisemitism to those who need it explained to them."
"Early reviews have missed the point entirely, arguing that it won’t be seen by the people who need to see it. For one thing, who says Jews don’t need to see it? I found it cathartic and strangely uplifting – seeing real Jews being portrayed as real Jews and not as JEWS."
"Calling out ancient prejudice"
"After its antisemitic blunder a year ago, this venue makes amends"
"Like all verbatim theatre, Jews. In Their Own Words is mostly a fine piece of editing, which powerfully explores the roots and persistence of antisemitism. For me, it was most successful in its small moments of imaginative sharpness, and in its most personal moments, than in its rather familiar crossing of the already well known. Many episodes were rarther inert, with interviewees just sitting around a table. But the toll that constant prejudice takes on people, the hideous effects of social media and the revolting persistence of medieval thinking come across strongly."
"If you accept the documentary verbatim style, and don’t mind the lack of any real drama, this is an intelligently crafted and committed piece of political theatre that tackles an issue too often swept under the carpet. But I'd love to see a proper play about the subject"
"Illuminating but inconsistent verbatim piece centres the experiences of Jewish people in contemporary Britain"
"Despite the sensitivity of the themes, co-directors Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield handle the piece with a light touch, keeping the tone calm and conversational throughout. There are some big, theatrical set pieces shoehorned in, though these often feel at odds with Freedland’s restrained text."
"Though the play feels unfocused in places, Freedland’s text is undoubtedly ambitious – trying to tackle historical injustices, fractious party politics and pernicious conspiracy theories simultaneously. It doesn’t always hang together, yet it still represents an important opportunity for meaningful engagement."
"A Leftie mea culpa that leaves a lot to be desired"
"Following an anti-Semitism row, the Royal Court has given the Jewish community a right of reply. It's just a shame about the play"
"Hats off to the Royal Court for this theatrical act of mea culpa even if the intent is more admirable than the execution."
"For personal testimony, however emotive, is a limited theatrical tool. Yes, there are harrowing revelations here – the Jewish doctor who chose a “portable” career because the need to flee is buried deep in her DNA; Oberman, who is also represented, being told in an audition she didn't “look” quite right for Pride and Prejudice. Yet, theatre thrives most of all on argument and provocation and there simply isn't enough of that here."
"An illuminating, unsettling study of prejudice"
"Based on interviews by Jonathan Freedland with 12 British Jews, this verbatim play directed by Vicky Featherstone disturbs and frustrates"
"In spite of director Vicky Featherstone’s professionalism, making showbiz out of the subject proves challenging: when everyone – diamante on their lapels – dances to the song It Was the Jews That Did It, the irony feels forced. But the piece’s biggest problem is the lack of actual (as opposed to ingeniously orchestrated) dialogue. Rather than attempting to gloss over its journalistic character, I wonder whether including Freedland’s questions might have brought this important piece closer to conversation."
"The theatre’s response to anti-Semitism claims doesn’t work"
"This play, where actors voice the views of 12 Jewish interviewees, is well-intentioned but barely takes shape as a drama"
"... however well-meaning this mea culpa is, it barely takes shape as a piece of drama."
"There can be no doubting the intention of this work, but its structural flaws continually undermine it and ensure that the execution is sadly lacking."