Religious traditions are brought into question in Jew You Love Me?, a musical that ultimately sends out a message that has been heard before in musical theatre, and will, no doubt, be heard again – and why not? Love expresses itself in many different ways, and various forms of sexual orientations and consented relationships all have their place in the modern world, and should be celebrated. I couldn’t help thinking that this was going over old ground – the likes of Fiddler on the Roof, for instance, sees a struggle within a Jewish community between seemingly timeless values and traditions and changing modern trends. But this is a London production for a London audience, and a timely one at that, in the week when three rival Jewish newspapers in London published the same front-page editorial against anti-Semitism.
Ethan (Alex Ayliffe), a writer and Alon (Ido Gonen) openly kiss on their way to the ‘Café Named Desire’ (yes, really), run by Sam (Martha Pothen). Their relationship is branded ‘disgusting’ by Bracha (Tanya Truman), who bizarrely believes her own same-sex attractions are a test from (her version of) God. Her rabbi, Pinni Smalls (an off-stage character), has written a book called ‘How To Love Normally’. Not much is revealed about the actual content of the book, which makes Sam’s curt dismissal of it too flippant, even if the context in which it was recommended by Bracha suggests it is sees anything other than heterosexual marriage as distasteful and morally dubious as far as relationships are concerned. I suspect (please forgive another reference to Fiddler) the services of community matchmakers may be recommended.
The physical characterisation of Yakov (Josh Becker) and Rachel (Batel Israel) has the potential to offend, not least because of their active lifestyles that go against their portrayal as people unable to walk unaided, a contrast made even more ridiculous during a song and dance number about bedroom activity. The older couple are grandparents of Bracha – her mother Dina (Adi Loya) is still based in the Holy Land, having sent Bracha to Britain, and, for whatever reason, there is no father to speak of. Completing the set of on-stage characters are Gabi (Ashley Racov), trying and failing to find true love through dating apps, including JDate and JSwipe, and Will (Jack Reitman), an entertainer who sings and performs at the Café Named Desire.
In the first half, there is quite a lengthy period between musical numbers – Act Two does better at using songs to advance the storyline. The choreography is vibrant but gentle, which fits the relatively small performance space and the intimate setting of the café. There are occasional appreciative nods in the songs to Yiddish music, and much of the humour seems to be concentrated on dating disasters. There is one moment, because of the repeated references to Yakov and Rachel’s ability to still enjoy, in retirement, vigorous bedroom activity, that brings the house down. It’s almost a pity that it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal the punchline.
But because of the convincing plotlines, the show overall leaves its audiences with a mixture of feelings. This is not a straightforward comedy. It is more of a multi-layered tale of lust, love and loss. These are, invariably, first world problems (Alon barely bats an eyelid when asked to pay £5.40 for a hot drink) but there is still much to be taken away from a compelling and accessible production that refreshingly departs from ‘A meets B and they live happily ever after in perpetual bliss’. Real life is messy, and so is this show. It’s not a case of going over old ground after all.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The JEWish Cabaret is giving you the real story of our lives; Complex. Messy. Imperfect. Sexual. Vulnerable. Beautiful. There will be no cliché boy-meets-girl fairy tale here.
“Jew You Love Me?” tells the story of all of us through Gabi – a seemingly straight Jewish girl who ends up finding love in an unexpected partner, Ethan and Alon – a gay couple struggling with the concept of monogamy and hetero-normative love, and Bracha – a religious woman who’s too afraid to explore her sexuality.
This musical was conceived by the two co-founders of The JEWish cabaret, David Djemal and Shar Shamai, and was written in a collaborative process with the cast Adi Loya, Ashley Racov, Alex Ayliffe, Batel Israel, Ido Gonen, Jack Reitman, Josh Becker, Tanya Truman, and Martha Pothen. Directing the show are Shar Shamai and David Djemal, with Anna Oggero acting as Production Assistant. Kieran Stallard & Emily Rose Simons joined the creative team as musical director and associate writer respectively.
Jew You Love Me? is showing at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre,
42-44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, NW5 2ED
27th-29th July 2018