The JW3 Theatre is a large Jewish community centre, nestled on the Finchley Road. The centre provides a great location for an insight into an exciting range of Jewish theatre which seems to be exploding onto the London scene, presently. Matthew Lloyd, the director of this adaptation of The 2000 Year Old Man is no stranger to the JW3 Theatre; in 2013 he directed the critically acclaimed Listen, We’re Family. The play explored contemporary Jewish life in London, its plot derived from a succession of interviews with families in the city.
However, this adaptation of Mel Brooks’ and Carl Reiner’s classic comedy skit, The 2000 Year Old Man, is not nearly as fresh and innovative as Lloyd’s previous JW3 production. The premise of the original 1960s sketches, revolves around an interview with a man who is approaching his two-thousandth birthday. Having experienced so much, the man reveals how he was personally acquainted with the likes of Sigmund Freud, Joan of Arc and Jesus, amongst many other historical figures. The two-thousand year-old man offers a light and personal insight into the lives of these historical figures (he dated Helen of Troy’s sister, Janice of Troy briefly, for example). He is playful, and at times, a handful- a sprightly character for a man of so many years. Often disproves historical ‘fact’- ‘History- they cook it all up!’ he exclaims.
Undoubtedly, the original material maintains its sharp wit, with its blend of American-Jewish humour. Any audience would notice its colossal impact upon following generations of comedians, ranging from Woody Allen to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. However, there is something slightly mechanical about Kerry Shale’s adaptation. Condensing hours of improvised comedy into a one-hour sketch reduces and dilutes the magic of the original material. Whilst Shale’s portrayal of the two-thousand year old man is admirable, it still falls way short of Mel Brooks’ original portrayal. One feels as if this is a forced impression, which gradually becomes somewhat tiresome. Like two guests at a dinner party, Shale and Neill clumsily manoeuvre their way around second-rate impressions of their comedy heroes.
Nevertheless, a production which relying on the ingenious transcript of Brooks and Reiner naturally offers moments of humour. Unfortunately, it simply falls a little short of the original material, and never truly does it justice. The production is a relatively short one, at just an hour long. However, by the end, it is somewhat wearing.
- Created by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner
- Adapted by Kerry Shale
- Directed by Matthew Lloyd
- Cast: Kerry Shale and Chris Neill
- JW3 Theatre, London
- Until 22 March 2015
- Review by Sam Pengelly
- 16 March 2015