nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: The Dybbuk

S. Ansky's 1917 play The Dybbuk, playing at the King's Head, is based on traditional Jewish folklore from Russia and the Ukraine. Although the central story is of Leah, who on the day of her arranged marriage invokes the ghost of her dead lover Chonen only to have him possess her, the play is peppered with Jewish fables and homilies, which makes it ideal for director Eve Leigh's purposes: As most modern depictions of Jewish stories in art are informed by the Holocaust, she fears that threatens to overwhelm the centuries of tradition the Holocaust was trying to wipe out. This production is intended as a return to, and celebration of, that tradition.

The powerhouse performance here comes from David Meyer as Azriel, the celebrated rabbi who performs an exorcism on Leah to drive the Dybbuk (a sort of wandering ghost) from her. He's a fearsome presence but exudes a real sense of inner calm and wisdom. Hanne Steen as Leah is very good, with a slightly ethereal presence. I wasn't too impressed with Edward Hogg as Chonen, with his LOOK AT ME I AM DOING ACTING performance, but his scenes of possession with Steen are beautifully done and have some very strong physical theatre. Tam Williams plays The Messenger, a possibly supernatural onlooker, and while he's not outstanding doesn't do badly. There's quite a decent totty count among the supporting cast - Thomas Morrison is cutely goofy, Duncan Barrett has nice arms and sticky-out ears (which regular readers will know is so the look this season) and Oliver Gartside is just plain hot.

I can't say I ever felt particularly emotionally involved, but what it lacks on that level I felt the production made up for intellectually, and I was never uninterested in what the characters had to say. Adam Kimmel's rather generic costume design did mean I wasn't always sure when some of the supporting cast, who played a variety of characters, had changed to a new role. Overall though I thought this was well worth a look, and as for Leigh's aim to provide a different, non-Holocaust-centred view of Jewish culture, I thought she succeeded.

The Dybbuk by S. Ansky is booking until the 24th of February at the King's Head, Islington.
Tags: theatre

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