The Mikvah Project
Written by Josh Azouz, Directed by Jay Miller
On at The Yard Theatre (London) until 14th March 2015 – Booking at: http://www.theyardtheatre.co.uk
Entering the space at The Yard theatre for The Mikvah Project is instantly atmospheric and somehow calming. The humidity from the large circular pool that takes up most of the stage space coupled with muted lighting design and the warbling chant of Josh Grigg’s score gave me the feeling of walking into a spa. Throughout the play, this atmosphere, the music both live and recorded, and the Mikvah itself feel like characters in their own right, swelling the cast of two. The Mikvah is an anchoring presence both symbolising and offering the cleansing and transformation both characters are seeking.
If the Mikvah is the heart of this show, its pulse is the relationship between Eitan and Avi. Evolving through the play, changing in rhythm and tempo, it brought to mind a quote from Alan Bennett’s History Boys, “The transmission of knowledge is itself an erotic act”. There is something very… Greek about the examination of the pupil-mentor relationship. There is an inevitable intimacy that develops in guiding someone through the difficult transition from child to adulthood. If you feel yourself treading in someone’s footsteps it can be hard not to love them. As one who has fallen for too many mentor-figures to count, Eitan’s plight was very familiar to me.
Oliver Coopersmith captured the desperate tumult of adolescent passion beautifully, without ever trivialising it. The stillness of Jonah Russell’s Avi provided a wonderful foil to Coopersmith’s jagged energy. Perhaps it was this very stillness that meant I found Avi’s situation less relatable, this may be a personal thing but there seemed to be something missing to explain Avi’s desire for the young boy. I saw compassion and understanding but nothing to justify Avi’s supposed inability to resist Eitan. For two people that spent a decent amount of time naked together, there was a lack of obvious chemistry which would have made more sense of the story. I would not however criticise the decision to play down the sexual element of the relationship, to some extent the beauty is in its esoteric, unconsumated nature.
Overall, the pleasure of this play lies in its juxtapositions. These are seen clearly in the music with its combination of legato singing and modern, rhythmic soundscapes. This serves to echo the interweaving of cultures in the play. The orthodox Jewish culture that permeates the lives of the characters is by turns sanctified and gently satirised. Football chat and Eitan’s liberal, if slightly self conscious, use of London city slang, creates the sense of another, very familiar world. Sometimes they mix comfortably, sometimes they clash. It is reminiscent of the bittersweetness of love and loss. Duality runs through the play, antiquity and novelty, youth and experience, fear and faith, all reflected in the constant, shifting waters of the Mikvah.
(C) Alexandra Birchfield 2015
Alexandra is a New Zealand born writer and actor who has been living in the UK for 4 years. She spent the first three years in Glasgow studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is now living in London with two lovely flatmates and one very pampered cat.