Words: Matthew Hyde
A new play by playwright Stephen Laughton is always an exciting prospect. He combines the current political and social landscape with the personal life of rich and complex characters and the result is always fascinating.
Although not perfect, this new production does what good theatre should do – it begs questions and provokes thought which linger in the mind long after.
Jesse is of Jewish background and has been the victim of an anti-semitic attack where he was beaten and called a ‘dirty fucking Jew’.
The play charts his relationship with the not-so-Jewish woman with whom he falls desperately in love. The four year relationship is passionate but to say it’s volatile is an understatement.
Against a backdrop of rising anti-semitism Jessie’s fear and arguably his paranoia threaten to engulf and destroy all he holds dear.
Jessie and his partner Alex are not always likeable and they argue with astonishing cruelty. Just as you wonder why they are together we are transported to early in the relationship and the connection, usually through a shared off-beat humour, is really beautiful to watch.
The discussions on anti-semitism are provocative, urgent and powerful. However the heart of the play lies in the personal rather than the political and it’s this that holds our interest.
Robert Neumark-Jones as Jessie has a background in stand-up comedy and it shows. He has wonderful comic timing and delivery coupled with an infectious charm.
His character is dangerously close to losing us completely in a scene of shocking selfishness with his pregnant partner who appears to be going into an early labour.
To Neumark-Jones’ credit however he manages to draw us back in and his personal torment towards the end is very affecting.
Asha Reid does an excellent job as Alex who despite her best efforts is something of a punching bag to Jessie’s dogmatic tirades. She has a natural warmth, strength and sensitivity that sees her flicker from pain to love in a heartbeat.
It’s a sophisticated and intelligent performance. Her closing scene in Ibiza where she is a little worse for wear is brilliant and one of the plays highlights.
It’s a pleasure to catch a production like this without the bells and whistles of the West End and is all the better for it. Strong acting, writing and direction come together to make an intimate night of powerful theatre.
Rating – 4*
One Jewish Boy plays at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 5th January.