‘One Jewish Boy’ review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
One Jewish Boy, Trafalgar Studios 2020
Photograph: Pamela Raith

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Intense, powerful drama about a couple divided by race, unable to comprehend each other's pain

There’s been a feeling of doom in the air for months now. It’s hard not to do anything but think about the coronavirus headlines. It’s therefore a mark of how powerful Stephen Laughton’s ‘One Jewish Boy’ is that, for the hour-and-a-half, I think of nothing but the scenes in front of me.

‘One Jewish Boy’ tells the story of Jesse (Robert Neumark-Jones) and Alex (Asha Reid). They are flawless distillations of a certain type of Londoner – Laughton’s ear for their performative smart-arse dialogue is humorous, occasionally hilarious. Between 2012 and 2020, during which they date, get married, have a baby, fight constantly and eventually consider divorce, Jesse and Alex run at each other with matching high-octane comedy and fury.

They are different in very important ways. Alex is a mixed-race woman from Peckham. Jesse is a middle-class Jewish man from Highgate who, a year or so into their relationship, is the victim of a brutal antisemitic attack. Race, class, gender, identity and trauma are embedded like shards of glass in their very selves, and often the considerable pain Alex and Jesse are in makes it impossible for them to fully empathise with the pain of the other.

In one early scene, Alex mocks the concept of inherited trauma; in the very same scene, Jesse lights Hanukkah candles, celebrating a ritual of a people oppressed throughout history. Her response to his re-evaluation of his identity following the attack can be generally classed as impatient. But Jesse himself is flawed, deflective, difficult: during Alex’s pregnancy, he drags her across the road in a panic because he sees a black man walking down the street. There is a skin-searing argument about voting Labour or Lib Dem during the 2019 election, so intense it might cause flashbacks.

Neither Jesse or Alex is particularly likeable, yet one of the great triumphs of the play is that it is impossible not to invest in their lives and in the catastrophic agony of watching them not hear, not listen to, not believe one another. In an era where antisemitism is on the rise and the far-right is in the ascendant, ‘One Jewish Boy’ feels like smart and necessary viewing.

By: Ka Bradley

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