Bad Jews (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

Bad Jews (Theatre Royal, Brighton – until Saturday, October 24th)

Good news – Bad Jews is one of this year’s most outstanding touring productions and you would be insane not to cancel all other engagements and rush to see it at Brighton.

Joshua Harmon’s extraordinary play is passionate, funny, moving and thought-provoking and is served brilliantly on this tour by director Michael Longhurst and an incredible cast of four.

Describing it as one of the must-sees at Brighton this year is an understatement: it is a play that deserves to be on every school and college syllabus and this production is one that demands to be seen.

The play constantly wrong-foots the audience:  just when you think you’re watching domestic American Jewish humour along comes something deeper, more vitriolic and more passionate.

After the funeral of their grandfather three Jewish cousins meet together in a claustrophobic New York apartment along with a sweet-natured all-American girl, who is forced to watch as the family argues about a valuable heirloom (which the grandfather kept safe during the Holocaust by hiding it in his mouth) , and relationships quickly deteriorate.

Beneath the brittle surface of love, success, and wealth lie deeper issues about faith, personal and corporate identity and remembering the past. Harmon’s 100-minute play also shows no fear in asking questions about racism, heritage and the importance of being aware of one’s roots, even through more recent history.

The verbal sparring of the two central characters creates a savage hothouse tension thankfully punctured from time to time by moments of hilarity. Ailsa Joy as Daphna, who may or may not have a boyfriend, and who believes she has the moral high ground when it comes to tradition, faith and ritual, is pitch perfect and layered with a passion that veers between the self-righteous and the cruel. Daniel Boyd as Liam, more sceptical about faith and tradition and who chooses a romantic skiing trip above the funeral, is also superb, striking a balance between the self-confessed bad Jew and the almost manically insulting.

Antonia Kinlay as Liam’s well-meaning girlfriend Melody is also great as the innocent bystander occasionally at the receiving end of the ill-tempered quarrel (her painful attempt to keep the peace by singing Summertime is but one highlight in the production). Jos Slovick as Jonah may not have the most to say as Liam’s fence-sitting brother Jonah, but subtly contributes much to the excellence of this production, with a brooding intensity that culminates in a quiet final scene which can only leave the audience shattered.

Bad Jews is a play likely to have you laughing out loud at one moment and wincing with embarrassment the next but, as this five-star production demonstrates, it never once sidesteps the issues or the drama and well deserves the standing ovation granted to it by Brightonians.

David Guest