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The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays at Soho Theatre

The thing about Jewish humour is that it’s, well, very Jewish: by that I mean it’s often self-deprecating and extremely funny. I learnt this originally from Woody Allen and The Arc is no exception, triumphantly carrying that torch: whilst exploring the deep psychological traumas of Jewishness – Birth, Marriage and Death – and making cogent philosophical points, the show is punctuated by swathes of humour delivered via some extremely funny lines.

Abigail Weinstock, Nigel Planer, Sam Thorpe-Spinks. (c) Danny With A Camera.
Abigail Weinstock, Nigel Planer, Sam Thorpe-Spinks. (c) Danny With A Camera.

The Arc is a trilogy of short plays. First off is Birth by Amy Rosenthal. I love a scenario where a normal, mundane domestic situation is interpolated by A Stranger. Yes, think An Inspector Calls though this is more like a Wannabe Victim Calls. Michael is a former eminent obstetrician who lives a quiet life with wife of fifty years, Lynda, doing crosswords and eating marzipan cake. Enter – via replacement bus from Clapham – fifty-year-old Naomi, ditzy slightly unhinged, whom, it seems, is returning to the scene of her birth via a kind of replacement life. Nigel Planer ratchets just the right amount of pompous incredulity into an engaging and humorous performance whilst his foil, Lynda, played with understated panache by Caroline Gruber, always teeters on the right side of sentimentality, especially with her very personal philosophical monologue that brings the play to a conclusion. Dorothea Myer- Bennett as Naomi, a slightly spooky agent provocateur who invades a domestic bliss space, is quite the itch that you can’t reach to scratch, luring the audience into a kind of comfortable discomfiture with her slightly manic breeziness.

Writer Rosenthal has a great ear for authentic mundane dialogue that she magically spins into some very funny exchanges without ever losing touch with an underlying serious point about how women seemingly have to fight battles with themselves as well as those that everyday life throws at them.

With Marriage by Alexis Zegerman, we venture into blind date territory with Planer appearing again, this time as the slightly sinister Godfrey who sits on a high stool in the bar/restaurant whilst Eva and Adrian slug it out at the table below him so that he appears like a comfortable, cloud-ensconced puppet master manipulating the sparring of the aspiring lovers. Abigail Weinstock and Sam Thorpe-Spinks play the rather reluctant blind dates with great glee and gusto keeping the laughs going throughout. Zegerman’s script enthrals and slightly horrifies us with its self-recognition context.

Finally, Death by Ryan Craig, takes us through the trials and tribulations of that difficult task of arranging a funeral for… well, a hamster. Adrian Schiller is Dan, the stern patriarch with a cuddly bedside manner who reluctantly has to attend the funeral. His offspring, Adam (Dan Wolff) and Leah (Abigail Weinstock) scratch and claw at each other, as siblings do, to an engaging absurdist comedy effect. It’s a play about death – but it’s a fun piece by Craig.

Whilst the subject matter of the trilogy might appear, at first glance, to be on the heavy side it is, in fact, a very entertaining evening, acted with great empathy for the scripts and directed with a knowing eloquence by Kayla Feldman. The company, Emanate – founded by Thorpe-Spinks and Wolff – is a welcome addition to the London theatre scene and I look forward to it continuing to bring joy to audiences with future productions.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

The Arc is a world premiere of three brand new short plays by Ryan Craig, Amy Rosenthal and Alexis Zegerman, exploring Birth, Marriage and Death through a distinctly Jewish lens. The Arc shines a contemporary light on the cycle of Jewish life, and what it means to live as a Jew in 2023.

Emanate Productions is a theatre company that focuses on nurturing talent in emerging and established artists of Jewish heritage – platforming urgent, exciting and passionate stories with an integral Jewish soul.

Following on from their sold-out run of at Kiln Theatre in 2022, Emanate are back at Soho Theatre this summer putting contemporary Jewish stories once again on centre stage.

BIRTH
by Amy Rosenthal
In the aftermath of their Golden Wedding celebrations, Michael and Lynda are surprised by an uninvited guest. Will Naomi’s visit be the marzipan on the fruitcake, or is she a fruitcake; and has she arrived – once again – at the wrong time?

MARRIAGE
by Alexis Zegerman
“We deserve more in common than just being Jewish, don’t we?”
One date. Thousands of years of exile. A million possibilities.

DEATH
by Ryan Craig
A humorous look at how ancient death rites can bring a family together, even after it’s been torn apart by divorce, illness, narcissism and neurosis.

Supported by Arts Council England.

https://sohotheatre.com/

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Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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