Directed by Michael Longhurst, Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews is an amazingly good piece of comic drama. No wonder it has won the many glowing reviews it has and has sold out to packed houses in London’s West End.
Three cousins find themselves stuck together in a tiny (if rather smart) one room apartment in New York. We are told that the bathroom has a great view of the Hudson river and the set is so realistic one believes one can actually see it if one went into the bathroom on stage. The fabulous set design is by Richard Kent. It is enhanced by subtle lighting effects by lighting designer, Richard Howell.
Their Holocaust survivor grandfather, has died and it is the day after the funeral. A treasured family heirloom, a hai, is up for grabs and there are two main contenders for its possession. These are fiercely intelligent – in yer face – Daphna (superbly realised by Ailsa Joy) and jittery uptight Liam (Ilan Goodman). Joy’s Daphna is fanatically religious regarding her Jewish faith but comes across as very bossy and at times quite the bully teasing out the tiniest scraps of information to beat down her perceived opponents. Surprisingly this doesn’t make her unsympathetic at times. On occasion, as is the case with very intelligent people – their frustration at the apparent lack of intelligence of others – is revealed in unbridled, explosive criticism and cruel put downs.
Wealthy cousin Liam (Goodman) is strong in his opinions about him being defined by Judaism. He has managed to miss the funeral of his Grandfather whilst on a skiing holiday with his non Jewish girlfriend Melody (Anatonia Kinlay) and positively hates Daphna. Goodman is superb in the role and hilariously almost busts a gut in his ranting monologue about how Daphna and her demands and accusations make him feel. Their are several moments in this play that achieve spontaneous applause from the audience; Liam’s rant is one and Melody’s butchered attempt to sing ‘Summertime’ from Porgy & Bess is another.
Finally there’s Jonah, (Jos Slovick) Liam’s quieter younger brother. For a man, torn between Daphna and Liam and their counter religiosity he has little to say throughout. However, he is discovered to have a lot to say at the play’s end but not in words. The spoiler police prevent this reviewer from revealing the final scene.
Bad Jews is very funny throughout, with some strong language, but it is skilfully written by Harmon to consider serious debate regarding the traditions and heritage of religion in Western culture. The universal subjects of family and the nature of exclusion and derision feature strongly and it is a play with elements of rawness that linger long in the mind afterwards, not just for the riotous comedy, but for the deeper emotional elements too.
Bad Jews runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 16th April.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe