Jews. In Their Own Words review – appalling revelations in a gallop through centuries of bigotry

2 months ago 15

This verbatim play astir antisemitism was, ironically, calved retired of an lawsuit of antisemitism successful the theatre present staging it, and it opens with a notation to that episode. A antheral emerges retired of a crackle of light, invoking the commencement of humankind, to beryllium told helium is Hershel Fink, the accidentally Jewish-sounding sanction initially fixed to the avaricious billionaire successful the play Rare Earth Mettle, produced astatine the Royal Court successful 2021.

Based connected an thought by the histrion Tracy-Ann Oberman and written by the Guardian writer Jonathan Freedland, the play aims to analyse antisemitism wrong wide institutions specified arsenic this venue and much emphatically the governmental near that gully themselves arsenic the enlightened, anti-racist “good guys” but harbour unconscious bigotries.

It is simply a playful commencement to a production, directed by Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield, that comes with bold theatricality, songs and wry jokes, albeit underpinned by deadly superior enquiry into however it is that this astir past signifier of hatred inactive persists. Jews takes america from that opening riff crossed centuries of prejudice and persecution, arsenic comprehensively arsenic is imaginable successful nether 2 hours. Freedland has enactment successful diligent research: 180,000 words drawn from interviews and 12 voices that scope from eminent Jewish figures – Margaret Hodge, Howard Jacobson and Oberman among them – to mundane members of British nine whose accounts are conscionable arsenic powerful, and each of whom are played by 7 nimbly alternating actors.

Touching galore  bases … Jews. In Their Own Words.
Touching galore bases … Jews. In Their Own Words. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

It brings a welter of important, appalling and too-often ignored realities, experiences, arguments, to the stage, but ends up arsenic alternatively a gallop crossed centuries of terrain, packing successful excessively overmuch without unpacking it afloat capable and touching truthful galore bases that immoderate parts hazard sounding similar soundbites.

Its theatricality does not ever onshore and feels arsenic if it is trying excessively hard to springiness the verbatim signifier a melodramatic edge, enacting medieval enigma benignant mimes portion characters recount the origins of antisemitic tropes, from the story of the moneylending Jew to the lurid phantasy of blood libel (which ties Jewish ritual with the humor of non-Jewish children).

The play gains successful powerfulness erstwhile this is dropped for a plainer, stiller signifier of storytelling, astir a table, 1 quality speaking aft different – of a swastika being etched into their household car, of increasing up successful Iraq and listening to vigor dramas with violative Jewish stereotypes, of casual but heinous maltreatment successful schools, taxicabs, offices. These are much distilled moments, filled with potency, and we privation for little truthful that we tin person more, with 1 statement oregon acquisition fixed its fuller due.

The play’s larger model somewhat undercuts its cardinal intent to absorption connected leftwing antisemitism too. It shows america conscionable however ubiquitous this signifier of radical bigotry is, mode beyond enactment politics, though we surely get alarming accounts from Hodge (played by Debbie Chazen) and erstwhile Labour shadiness minister, Luciana Berger (Louisa Clein) astir the inaction and obfuscation they experienced, on with vile intersections betwixt misogyny and antisemitism connected societal media.

Blood libel examined … Jews. In Their Own Words.
Blood libel examined … Jews. In Their Own Words. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

But the play overmuch much compellingly shows however antisemitism pervades crossed culture, past and is embedded successful connection itself. Stephen Bush (Billy Ashcroft) makes a invaluable constituent astir the wide left’s diagnostic suspicion of wealth and powerfulness – a loaded relation fixed long-held antisemitic conspiracy theories astir Jews moving the media and holding each wealthiness and power. Other anti-left arguments dependable much generalising though: that the near supports the underdog and truthful stopped supporting Israel aft Israel’s triumph successful the 1967 warfare (“The sentimental near … cannot sympathise with anyone who wins”). The Guardian, it is suggested, is blameworthy of the same.

Bush points retired excessively however the near does not ideate Jews to beryllium Black and it is unfortunate, successful airy of that statement, that determination are constricted insights into being a Black Jewish Briton present – Bush is the lone quality of mixed heritage, though determination is the communicative of 1 Iraqi refugee, Edwin Shuker (Hemi Yeroham).

There is an immensely almighty but each excessively little look astatine inherited trauma and the bequest of the Holocaust, with mournful stories of packed suitcases near by the doorway decades aft the 2nd satellite warfare and a paediatrician who speaks of having a “portable career” successful lawsuit she has to flee, which is utterly heartbreaking.

It introduces Israel arsenic a taxable but eschews it too. “What’s a overseas struggle got to bash with me?” says 1 quality and others talk astir however they are perpetually being called upon for their opinions connected the Middle East conflict. The play resuscitates an aged complaint against Caryl Churchill’s contentious 2009 play, Seven Jewish Children, written soon aft Israel’s bombing of Gaza (which killed much than 200 Palestinian children). Jacobson (Steve Furst) remembers seeing it and feeling arsenic if the assemblage was “being encouraged to boo the Jews”. We perceive however the play invokes myths astir humor libel, arsenic good arsenic conflating the word “Jewish” with “Israeli” (Churchill and her play’s director, Dominic Cooke, person robustly defended the play against these charges).

Alarming accounts … Debbie Chazen voices the words of person   Margaret Hodge.
Alarming accounts … Debbie Chazen voices the words of person Margaret Hodge. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

“Criticise what you privation – the premier minister, the settlements policy, this war, this subject strategy,” says 1 character. “Most Jews would hold with you. But don’t bash it successful a mode which criticises the Jewishness of Israel.” The opacity of this connection begs much treatment which we bash not get, on with tentative statements connected the intersection betwixt antisemitism and anti-Zionism which leaves the treatment dangling. Instead, the play steps distant from exploring however protestation and pro-Palestinian sympathies tin legitimately beryllium expressed by Jewish voices successful public, and art, which was, according to Cooke, the constituent of his play.

Ultimately, its probing intentions are determination but its remit is simply excessively large, powering connected to the adjacent taxable and past the next. But determination is, adjacent successful this, a consciousness of a bigger, valid, anxiety: this feels similar a play that is being fixed a uncommon accidental to aerial its urgent and desperately important issues, making it feverish to screen each the crushed successful the clip it has been afforded.

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