Review by Daz Gale
A touch of comedy heads to the Menier Chocolate Factory this month as Alex Edelman brings his one man show Just For Us there for a limited residency. Having wowed audiences previously with its sell-out run in New York, Alex brings a mix of stand up comedy and theatre to the London stage, but was this just for a niche audience or was there enough in there to keep everybody entertained?
The main premise for Alex Edelman – Just For Us recounts the anti-Semitic abuse Orthodox Jew Alex received online and how it led to him visiting a gathering of White Nationalists in New York City, coming face to face with these keyboard warriors. What might sound terrifying and perhaps not the easiest premise to laugh at challenges this very attitude and has more substance and humour than you would necessarily expect.
While the story of this one night forms the overarching narrative of the story, Alex regularly cuts away from the action to tell another story from his life – highlights include the time his Jewish family discovered Christmas and the reaction to that, his feeling about not doing enough as a Jew, and his feelings about his Olympian brother. These seemingly unrelated stories all segue seamlessly back into the main story, but it is that intense evening that captivates the audience, leaving us hanging on Alex’s every word.
Alex’s writing is quite simply extraordinary. The way he can craft a joke and recreate a story was spellbinding to witness. While he introduced the show telling us he likes to make jokes that are dumb and small, this proved to be far from the truth (an early horse joke aside) as his jokes were often full of depth and meticulously crafted to create a punchline you couldn’t see coming and never missed. The hit rate of the jokes was extremely consistent and had me howling with laughter from start to finish.
The writing is smarter than just the jokes though. The inspiration for the show, Alex tells us, was a fellow comedian telling him to write something about the world today. Inspired by this, Alex created a show predominantly about the problem of antisemitism that is still so prevalent today. While he has no problem poking fun at himself and his own “White privilege”, he addresses a serious issue in a way that manages to be thought provoking and powerful, even while laughing at the extremities of the situation Alex got himself in.
Every bit as good as the writing was Alex’s performance himself. Remaining on stage consistently for 90 minutes with nothing but several seats for company, he ensures there is never a dull moment. A confident performer, he oozes charm in a truly charismatic performance that endears him to you immediately. The delivery of the lines felt natural and spontaneous despite very clearly being meticulously rehearsed, while his facial expressions, body language and hand movements added to the delivery of this fantastic story.
While Alex Edelman – Just For Us may appear to be a very Jewish story, with Alex regularly saying words in Hebrew and saying things he is aware only a very select few people will understand, this show is far more accessible to the wider community than it might appear. Even as a self-proclaimed Bad Jew myself, several references went over my head (though my childhood Rabbi would be proud I understood several others. Everything else about my life choices since I was a kid, maybe not so much) but Alex was on hand to explain what everything meant to ensure everyone understood every part of the story and every joke. This in itself added to the success of the show with a diverse audience reacting identically, all understanding every bit of the story in a show that was every bit as sensitive as it was sensational.
You have to wait until the closing minutes to realise the significance behind the title of the show (Just For Us I mean - Alex Edelman is his name… kind of) but when you realise what it refers to, it definitely packs a punch. A show full of unexpected twists and genius call backs to moments in the show and story itself that felt insignificance, this is a show where every piece of the puzzle comes together incredibly satisfyingly, with no missing pieces to leave you frustrated. Alex reunites with his regular director Adam Brace who ensures this expertly crafted show gets the delivery it deserves to realise its full potential.
I must admit I went into Alex Edelman – Just For Us not knowing what to expect, having not experienced Alex or one of his shows before. I came out of there a complete convert (To Alex, I mean - apologies to my childhood Rabbi. You won’t be seeing me again). An accomplished and charismatic performer, Alex has created a fully accessible show that manages to be wholesome and hilarious while remaining powerful and a crucial voice to combat awful attitudes we still endure in the world today. Equally intelligent and important, Just For Us is an accessible show that has something in it for everyone with a cleverly constructed concept that never dips in quality from start to finish. One thing is for sure – there’s certainly nothing dumb and small about this show.
Alex Edelman – Just For Us plays at Menier Chocolate Factory until 26th February. Tickets from www.menierchocolatefactory.com
Photos by Alastair Muir