Old Red Lion Theatre, London
I took my seat in the Old Red Lion auditorium looking forward to reviewing a queer play for LGBTQ Arts. The lights dimmed and in walked a decidedly heterosexual couple who, for the next eighty minutes, were the only characters on stage. In essence, One Jewish Boy is a very heterosexual play and therein lay so many of the problems for Alex and Jesse as we were shown fragments of their fractured relationship.
This play was strong across the board: Asha Reid and Robert Neumark-Jones gave star performances as the couple. Theirs was a very human story, both having their flaws, but as the drama unravelled Jesse’s trauma and experiences of oppression took over as he failed to process his experiences and became increasingly dependent on Alex to do the emotional work for him. This is sadly a toxic interplay that is all too common in many heteronormative relationships. There were times when I really liked Jesse and could sympathise, and other times when I wanted to tell him to shut the f**k up and to support Alex – that’s when I knew Neumark-Jones was doing a great job. I was blown away by Reid’s ability to portray Alex at different ages and stages of her life – from shy but funny nineteen year old to exasperated businesswoman and mother.
Stephen Laughton’s script is fantastic – he deftly weaves together politics, woke-ness, trauma and love, and only very rarely does it seem like he’s trying to tell us something, rather than just showing us the unfolding of a relationship. The script (which I got a free copy of – yay!) was brilliantly brought to life by Sarah Meadows who directed with empathy and subtlety, given a different handling of of it could have resulted in melodrama. However, it’s here I think there was quite a big difference between the play I thought I was going to see – One Jewish Boy predominantly about Jesse and his experiences – and the one I saw – a play about a couple, both of whom share the stage. To see the former show I needed to see more of Jesse’s backstory and to better understand the traumatic experiences he went through. However, I’m glad I didn’t see that play because for me it was about both Alex and Jesse, so perhaps it could be called One Jewish Boy and One Girl from Peckham. My only other question is why the play started where it did – in 2018 at the breakdown of their relationship – given that it was clear from most of the other scenes that this was always the direction in which things were going. But where the play ended was beautiful and gave me goose bumps.
One Jewish Boy runs at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 5th January 2019. Book Now.
©Robert H 2018