Following a record-breaking run, Bad Jews has returned to the West End for a limited time only. Premiering in New York in 2012, it has previously toured the UK and enjoyed two sold-out engagements in the West End. Inexplicably I had missed the show the previous times it had been here, despite the theme being a bit close to home, so I was keen to catch it this time. Could it be as good as everybody had said in its previous incarnations?
Set in a New York apartment, Bad Jews sees two brothers and their cousin sharing the small space following the funeral of their grandfather. When one of the brothers brings home his non-Jewish girlfriend, it sparks a huge row over both family and faith, to often hilarious and sometimes devastating effect.
Four young performers make up the impressively talented cast. Ashley Margolis is completely mesmerising as Liam, perfectly encapsulating the way his character gradually (and suddenly) gets wound up by his very different cousin, with his outbursts a true masterclass in comic timing. His non-Jewish girlfriend Melody is played by Olivia Le Andersen who goes on a fantastic journey from blissful ignorance and confusion to the family dynamic as her own patience wears thin. She also gives a truly genius performance when she gets a big musical number.
A standout performance is Rosie Yadid as Daphna. While she might be quite a complex character in relation to the others, Rosie excels at tapping into all the different aspects of her personality from extreme annoyance to passion for her religion to perhaps delusions to a secret sadness. Watching her portray this character is a reminder of what good acting should look like. The cast is completed by Charlie Beaven who makes his West End debut as Jonah. While he doesn’t have much to do compared to the other 3, he manages to be captivating with a less is more approach with his reactions and cool exterior gradually diminishing a testament to his talent.
While the four performers may be talented in their own right, it’s how they convey the dynamic between them which truly adds to the enjoyment factor of Bad Jews. From the brotherly relationship between Liam and Jonah, the tense and awkward interaction between strangers Daphna and Melody, and the always fascinating to watch conflict between Liam and Daphna, the interactions are always comedic while still being relatable and authentic.
Joshua Harmons writing is truly the main star of Bad Jews. The dialogue comes across as fairly natural while regularly being witty and occasionally completely brutal. No lines are throwaway and carry with them more depth than immediately meets the eyes with themes about what it means to have faith and how we interact with those who have different views to us giving pause for thought. I personally connected to some of the writing, given my own experience with the religion (I have been called a Bad Jew myself many times) which gives this show the perfect mix of relatability and escapism.
An impressive set designed by Richard Kent fills the stage at the Arts Theatre with authentic detail of a New York apartment, with the use of the outside hallway allowing the cast to have private conversations a particularly inspired touch. With direction from Jon Pashley, the action plays out incredibly satisfyingly.
It’s easy to see why Bad Jews has had such an overwhelmingly positive response in the past. Witty and at times gritty, it’s a fascinating and funny view at what it means to have faith in the 21st Century. Not always an easy watch by any stretch with some of the character attacks deliberately uncomfortable, but this is the kind of show it is impossible to take your eyes off of. Suffice to say, there really is nothing bad about Bad Jews. Catch it while you can!
Bad Jews plays at the Arts Theatre until September 25th. Tickets from badjews.co.uk
Photos by Ellie Kurttz