The death of their grandpa means an important decision needs to be made – who will, or deserves to, inherit his Chai? Not only is the Chai an important part of Jewish custom, meaning life and 18 in Hebrew, but in the case of Liam, Daphna and Jonah’s grandpa, it is the only thing he managed to hold onto during his time at the concentration camp. This particular Chai is important and carries with it a rich history for each cousin. For Daphna (Ailsa Joy), it is a reminder of the struggle they as Jews have faced in order to be living freely today. For Liam (Ilan Goodman), it represents the power of love and drive for survival, which is why he means to give it to Melody (Antonia Kinlay). For Jonah (Jos Slovick), well, no one really knows. And of course, what better time to discuss the matter than on the eve of their grandpa’s funeral?
Bad Jews is a very important discussion of the need and importance of culture infused with comedy and wit. Liam represents the more modern attitude of dismissing culture, as individuals we should follow our own principles and rules. Daphna is acutely aware of the important historical background of their Jewish faith and culture, exposing the stupidity of letting that die as once it has gone you can never get it back. Whether they wish to be or not, the cousins are bound together by their faith, their esteem for grandpa and their awareness of the Chai’s importance.
The acting is impeccable. The truthful portrayals of flawed, intriguing realistic human beings are complete with comic timing and presence. Not only do they work incredibly as individuals, but also as a company. There is never a doubt that they’re a family, from the fond, hilarious memories of a gassy birthday dinner to violent death threats. The great thing is that they are all equally annoying and infuriating – when it comes down to it, it isn’t necessarily who you agree with the most but who you hate the least.
Although I enjoyed Liam and Daphna’s rants (mainly complaining about the other), it sometimes felt like Daphna’s monologues were a little overindulgent, perhaps because they were less physical. This feeling is heightened when compared to Jonah’s lack of dialogue, although his silence in a way gives power to the character, we crave to hear more than just the monosyllabic replies.
Having said this, Bad Jews is a must see, if not for the topic of heritage then for the comedy and accomplished acting. Despite its focus on Jewish culture, it is accessible and a joy to all.
- By Joshua Harmon
- Directed by Michael Longhurst
- Cast includes Ailsa Joy, Ilan Goodman, Jos Slovick and Antonia Kinlay
- Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
- Until 19th March 2016
- Review by Camille Hainsworth-Staples
- 15 February 2016