Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bad Jews and worse Bolsheviks

Stalin's Daughter at the Brewery in Bristol has received so much attention and acclaim the run was extended by three days this week so I thought I ought to go. David Lane imagines Svetlana Alliluyeva telling us the tale of her years of refuge in Clifton in the early 1990s.  Kirsty Cox in Faraway Tree socks & sandals & frock takes the role of the traumatised child of the tyrant, arriving with a caseful of terrible memories and an imaginary friend and addressing her past and present simultaneously. Kirsty's long solo performance is a praiseworthy tour-de-force especially with so many mad / bad /dead and pretend people all inhabiting her room, including a potato man representing her papa. There's a lot about fruit too and some unresolved sexual tension with a green grocer. I think. I was expecting more insight into the historic aspect of the era though.
A fantastic full moon, bloated and dazzling, hung brighter than all the street lights in an indigo sky as I drove home. Wonderful.
Bad Jews, the current production at Ustinov Studio in Bath, was inspired when New York writer Joshua Harmon attended a service for 'grandchildren of survivors' that he found 'full of sterile clichés and scarily lacking in genuine feeling.' His response is this moving family-conflict drama. It's a comedy, and exactly the kind of humour you’d expect from Jewish comedy: rapid-fire, acerbic, provocative - and very funny. In fact it's so self-consciously in-your-face Jewish it takes a while to realise that what is at the heart of the story is their ordinary human traits, not their convictions ~ their longings and losses, not their dead grandfather’s chai, a gold medallion with religious & personal significance and the focus of conflict for these three mourning grandchildren. The witty tirades keep you laughing, and sometimes wincing, but at the heart of the story are profoundly important issues about how to deal with, and learn from, the pain of the past ~ which, according to Daphna, is carried for us all by the jews. She's a buzz of vituperative rage with a tongue like a heat-seeking missile especially when she discovers the treasured chai is headed to adorn the gentile neck of her cousin Liam's girlfriend. Her exchanges with Melody are relentlessly biting: 'Where did your family come from?' Daphna asks, eyeing her like a puff-adder watching a frog, and when the artless girl answers 'Delaware', she lashes her with American history before rephrasing 'So, where did your family come from before they came to Delaware to perpetrate genocide?' Liam is Daphna's main challenger, returning fire with equal passion, enraging her with his 'Bad Jew' identity and his contempt for 'the Chosen People talk', but he finds her Nazi code of tribal purity indefensible and identifies the flaw: 'You sound like someone who’s never been in love.' And it's quiet Jonah, we discover at the end, who represents a more private and personal way to deal with the past.
I haven't a single quibble with this marvellous production. It's directed by Michael Longhurst, Ilan Goodman as Liam and Jenna Augen are riveting in the lead roles, with Joe Coen's  Jonah and Gina Bramhill as Melody giving strong support.  The set (Richard Kemp) is excellent, and lighting (Richard Howell) and sound (Adrienne Quartly) deserve a mention too. So that's it. Take five stars, everyone.

No comments: