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One Jewish Boy by Stephen Laughton at Trafalgar Studios | Review

One Jewish Boy Pamela Raith Photography.
One Jewish Boy – Pamela Raith Photography.

One Jewish Boy, set mostly in London and New York, concerns Jesse, a thirty-year-old (or thereabouts) from North London who is unable to mentally recover from the trauma of an antisemitic attack on him, and Alex, the mixed heritage woman he falls in love with. Even though the attack took place in 2013, and the play is set in 2020, and though Alex has, certainly at first, more patience and understanding than anyone has a right to expect, we see their relationship careering in many directions, aided by the flashback structure used by playwright Stephen Laughton.

Laughton has the rare gift of being able to write naturalistic dialogue that is totally believable, and we quickly become involved in the lives and emotions of the two protagonists. Although there are arguments, often taken at a breathtaking pace, there are also moments of great stillness, pathos and contentment. However, the scene about the 2019 General Election seems a bit ‘tacked on’ and the play would be stronger without it.

Alex has the slightly better-written role. She is powerfully played by Asha Reid, and I doubt whether you will see finer acting in any London theatre this year – in fact, this is not acting: we totally believe in her as if real life is taking place in front of us, especially in the confined space of Trafalgar 2. This is a superb performance in every respect – Asha Reid has clearly lived with this character for a long time and everything she says is totally convincing, especially her impassioned love for Jesse, and her inability to understand him.

Jesse is a slightly more two-dimensional role, though as portrayed by Robert Neumark-Jones, very credible, even if we don’t have as much sympathy for him as we do for Alex, which is presumably the playwright’s intention. He is at his very best in the scenes showing the early years of the relationship in which he exudes a wonderful calming influence, as well as inwardly demonstrating his love for Alex.

Perhaps the best thing about the entire play is the total rapport that the two actors in-role clearly have for each other.

The direction is by the highly talented Sarah Meadows, who ensures that where pace is required it is there, whilst also allowing the play to breathe in the more gentle moments. The most astonishing moments are the various arguments that suddenly occur – they literally burst out from the body of the play and are quite shocking.

The simple yet functional set is by Georgia de Grey and the atmospheric music by Benedict Taylor. Imaginative lighting, taking the play quickly from one year and place to another, is by Jack Weir. Slightly strange is the smoke machine which is inclined to start working in rather odd and uncalled for places!

The publicity blurb for this play states that it runs 110 minutes: in fact, it is only 90 minutes and is just the right length! It leaves one in theory wanting more, but in practice being too exhausted to watch any more!

Powerful, moving, thrilling, funny, superbly acted – what more could one desire! Highly recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Jesse is paranoid and he’s frightened and it’s messing up his relationship, his job, his daughter and his life…

In a bittersweet comedy fuelled by anti-Semitism, One Jewish Boy focusses squarely on the inheritances that haunt us. Asking if the fear of hatred, could be worse than hate itself…?

Critically acclaimed, award-winning writer Stephen Laughton (JB Priestly Award for Writers of Promise 2019 winner, and current Writer in Residence for the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History) has written One Jewish Boy as an urgent response to overt anti-Semitism.

With anti-Semitism and racism rife in political parties and hate-crime at unprecedented levels, Stephen Laughton explores one young family’s struggle against fear, prejudice and identity.

Company information
Performers Robert Neumark-Jones (Jesse) and Asha Reid (Alex) Designer Georgia de Grey
Writer Stephen Laughton
Lighting Designer Jack Weir
Director Sarah Meadows
Composer Benedict Taylor
Producer Ed Littlewood
Producer Keren Misgav Ristvedt

One Jewish Boy
Trafalgar Studio Two, London
Booking to 4th April 2020
Book Tickets for Trafalgar Studios

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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