Theatre review: Listen, We’re Family at JW3

Deeply moving tales of real-life Jewish Londoners

This debut theatre commission by the Jewish Community Centre puts verbatim theatre techniques to good use, editing down interviews with a range of Jewish Londoners discussing family life.

Extracts are fed into actor’s earpieces seconds before they say their lines, closely emulating the interviewee’s intonation and speech patterns.

Co-creator Kerry Shale, who excels in several roles, and director Matthew Lloyd, weave together some memorable characters – the 90-year-old Tottenham barber impatient his interviewer isn’t fluent in Yiddish, the affectionate son whose father ran the red stripe suburban spanking club, and the north Londoner vividly describing how she survived a chaotic homelife.

While some characters are less defined, their storylines peter out or are too harshly cut, and can be hard to follow, the ones that thread through the evening are perhaps inevitably more lurid tales of murder, suicide, mental illness and emotional abuse – often deeply moving.


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Identity

Roughly half airs universal family baggage, while half is culturally specific discussing Jewish identity and tradition.

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Though most are quick to say they’re not religious, they describe being cultural Jews, whose family life is irrevocably entwined with comforting ritual, as one puts it: “when a funeral happens, it’s so good to have a script”.

Most have dealt with anti-Semitism, and the ongoing ripples of the Holocaust.

One wonders whether without “this dreadful thing happening” we might not feel anything about who we are, while another has reclaimed the original family name that was anglicised.

Aided by strong comic performances from Shale, Isy Suttie, Maggie Steed and Tom Berish, many interviewees are articulate and caustically funny, proof, if it were needed, that Jews are brilliant at cracking jokes against themselves.

I’d have happily sat through another half hour, which might have helped expand some of the quieter less sensational subjects.

***

Until Sunday (November 24).

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