The Royal Court Theatre are holding their hands up and trying to make amends for the mistakes made in the past, regarding antisemitism. Just last year, the theatre put on a play, Rare Mettle Earth, in which there was a character named Hershel Fink – a manipulative billionaire. Despite the Jewish name, the character was not Jewish, yet this characterisation was detrimental in perpetuating an offensive stereotype. They’re making space to hear from real Jewish people. As despite society becoming more inclusive, it’s apparent that antisemitism still exists today.

© Manuel Harlan

Jews. In Their Own Words has been written by Jonathan Freedland, from an idea by Tracy-Ann Oberman. Using verbatim interviews from 12 people, this play is raw and honest.

The show begins with Hershel Fink stumbling onstage and talking to a cloud, with the cloud explaining why his name is antisemitic. We then plough full steam ahead into an array of short stories of each person’s lived experiences. Parts of the show feature the cast acting out historical moments, including medieval massacres and blood libels. There’s also a musical number “It Was The Jews That Did It” which really doesn’t suit the production, and somewhat dilutes the message that the show is trying to give.

A cast of 7 perform on stage, with Reuben Cohen’s video projections displaying the name of the person they are speaking the words of. The people that were interviewed to create this production include Dame Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, Tracy-Ann Oberman, amongst others. From MPs to a social worker, we hear from a range of lived experiences throughout the piece. However, the show lacks a clear narrative for the most part. It is quite clear that this is Freedland’s debut play – as the show at times felt as though it would be better suited to a documentary format, something columnist and former foreign correspondent, Freedland would likely be more familiar with.

© Manuel Harlan

With minimal staging, the onus is on the cast and their storytelling abilities. And they do not disappoint. Each member of the cast gives stunning performances. Although, the pacing wasn’t even throughout with some parts feeling slightly too long, and other moments in need of a pause for digestion of the appalling information which has been bestowed upon us.

I also felt like some people, such as Luciana and Dame Margaret Hodge’s stories, were focused on much more compared to the other people interviewed. Which led to the piece at times feeling like it was only covering one viewpoint – that of an MP. Billy Ashcroft’s character made the point that he is both black and Jewish and this confuses people, as there’s not enough representation of this in media – which is ironic as he was also the only black person upon the stage.

I commend Freedland for what they were trying to achieve here. And there were points in which the show was heartfelt and delivered a punch in the gut, making some essential points. Jews. In Their Own Words is such an important story, with some editing and more of a fully realised narrative, this show could have a much larger emotional impact. It’s refreshing that this theatre is admitting their mistakes and giving a main stage platform to Jewish people to tell their stories and break biases. I just hope the people that really need to see this, will.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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