The Jews. In their own words, Royal Court review – exposing old prejudices

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In November 2021, he made a terrible blunder by allowing an anti-Semitic stereotype a money-hungry billionaire called Hershel Fink in Al Smith’s Rare Earth Courage to go through the rehearsal process despite the protests of several company members. Eventually the character was renamed and you’d think the place would overlook the issue. But no.

In fact, the first character to appear in The Jews. In their own wordsa new verbatim of Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland from an idea of ​​actor Tracy-Ann Oberman, is the same Hershel Fink. This time, however, the show is all about challenging stereotypes, particularly in the context of “enlightened progressive institutions”, such as the Royal Court and left-wing circles more generally. Freedland interviewed 12 Jewish people to illustrate the harmful hold anti-Semitism still has on many people in British society today. It’s kind of a stage version of the excellent comedian and writer David Baddiel Jews don’t count.

Although all those who did not know Rare Earth Courage might be taken aback by the opening prologue, the main event is of broader depressing relevance. Those interviewed include Oberman, Labor politicians Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger, novelist Howard Jacobson, journalist Stephen Bush, former Jewish Student Union president Hannah Rose, as well as less prominent figures such as social worker Victoria Hart, pediatrician Tammy Rothenberg, decorator Phillip Abrahams, Baghdad-born Edwin Shuker, and Talmudist Joshua Bitensky. Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust, which fights anti-Semitism, plays the role of narrator.

With the help of the other interviewees, Rich tells us about episodes of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes, such as the rich and avaricious Jews, or the conspiratorial puppeteers of those in power. Using masks and puppets to illustrate reminders of the historical past of prejudice in this country and in Eastern Europe (picture below), there are episodes that highlight attacks on Jews in York in 1190 or Lincoln in 1255, prompting discussion of the image of Jews as greedy moneybags or vicious child murderers (the blood libel). Some of the material is personal like when Bush talks about his mixed-race heritage or Jacobson about being bullied at school and others more general. Although Renaissance depictions of the Last Supper show, according to Jacobson, Judas as a “treasonous, treacherous, money-mad Jew,” surely all early Christians, including Jesus, were Jews?

It’s often specific incidents and experiences that are most interesting: Abrahams generously tips his Uber driver to avoid being seen as a stereotypical mean Jew he feels responsible for “breaking down this prejudice”. During the pandemic, he visits a local convenience store and discovers that a Turk who works there is convinced that the coronavirus is a Jewish plot to wipe out Muslims. Other fantasies about world domination are just as crazy, but just as persistent. Unsurprisingly, given the experiences of some of those interviewed, Jeremy Corbin’s Labor Party is lambasted, as is former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. the play Royal Court by Caryl Churchill, Seven Jewish children, is strongly condemned. Naturally, Shylock and Fagin emerge as central figures of hate.

More unusually, Shuker travels to Blackburn to meet the Muslim community and appeals to them with his knowledge of the Koran and his style, which is “very, very Fiddler on the Roof, where I show both weakness and strength”. . The result is that he is seen, embarrassingly, as an anti-Zionist. The discussion of how criticism of the State of Israel and its actions in the West Bank after the Six Day War in 1967 can often turn into anti-Semitism is sadly predictable and the intensity of anti-Jewish messaging on Twitter and social media is disgusting and horrifying. Fortunately, there are a few humorous moments: Hodge tells a good joke about Corbyn, and the company performs “The Jews Did It,” a wonderfully satirical song and dance.

Like any verbatim theatre, The Jews. In their own words is above all a beautiful montage, which powerfully explores the roots and persistence of anti-Semitism. For me, it was more successful in its small moments of imaginative acuity, and in its most personal moments, than in its rather familiar crossing of the already well known. Many episodes were rather inert, with the interviewees simply 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 thought are all on full display. There’s a lot of resilience as well as sadness in the show, though I’m not sure any of that speaks to people outside of the relatively small circle of theater and Labor progressives.

That said, Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield’s 100-minute production, which is designed by Georgia de Grey, is easily watchable and has a cast led by Alex Waldmann (Rich), with other actors mainly dubbing: Debbie Chazen (Hodge and Rothenberg), Louisa Clein (Oberman and Berger), Steve Furst (Jacobson and Abrahams), Hemi Yeroham (Shuker and Bitensky), and Rachel-Leah Hosker (Hart and Rose). Billy Ashcroft plays Stephen Bush. If you’re okay with the verbatim documentary style and don’t mind the lack of real drama, this is a smartly crafted and engaging political play that tackles an issue too often swept under the rug. But I would like to see a real play on the subject.

@AleksSierz

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