The Jewish tradition of ‘sitting shivah’ a period of seven days spent grieving and mourning for a dead person, is the basis for Daniel Kanaber’s play Shiver. Commissioned by Watford Palace, the theatre’s location is convenient for many of London’s Jewish population, whose homes can be found around northwest London and south Hertfordshire. Indeed a large sprinkling of the the audience members at last night’s production (including your reviewer), were drawn from that precise demographic.
After a protracted and unnamed lung disease Sadie Tinnaver has died and been buried, leaving her grieving widower Mordecai (David Horovitch) to come to terms with life, religion, his God and his estranged son Ben (Ben Caplan). The play opens in the couple’s bedroom where the mourner, a lapsed Jew, is preparing to recite the ritual prayers with Joshua Avod (Ilan Goodman), a student rabbi. Whilst these events are taking place the hum of voices and the opening and closing of doors signifies the neighbours who are visiting and dropping off food downstairs. It is soon apparent that Mordecai has organised the religious preparations for the sake of his late wife, who had become more devout in her final months.
When Ben arrives it soon becomes apparent that he has forgotten most of his Jewish upbringing. He stumbles to read Hebrew, forgets that Jews do not kneel to pray, and smokes and speaks on his mobile phone whilst the other two men are intoning psalms. His father, too, seems not to be unaware that he should not pander to vanity in the wearing of leather shoes. Not only are father and son relatively irreligious, but the prayers are being led by an ultraorthodox rabbi wearing a streimel hat and peyot.
The religious clashes are not the only ones. The two men grieving for Sadie air their differences regarding the care of the deceased; with Ben believing that his father has compounded his mother’s suffering by keeping her at home to die supported by a ventilator rather than sending her to a hospice.
One thing both men have in common is in their anthropomorphising of Sadie’s blue evening gown, the ‘Paris Dress’ that she never got to wear and both use it to pour out and appease their own grief.
Shiver is a slowly drawn out piece that seems to stumble over itself and take a long time to reach its conclusion. It permits Kanaber to explore different facets of Jewish beliefs and religious practices, probe at grief and how we come to terms with it and examine how we cope with family tensions and disagreements. Love can take many forms: love of one’s spouse, child or God, but it is an emotion that enables us to carry on with our lives and share them with others, whatever our religious observances.