Review by Raphael Kohn
Most of the time I review theatre, I’m satisfied with seeing one show. Emanate Productions, a Jewish theatre company, rips the rulebook up and instead presents three in an evening, in a collection called ‘The Arc’. Presenting stories of modern Jewish life, The Arc gives the audience three completely separate tales to chew on. But with such bitesized storytelling, with each play running for only about 20 minutes, each course in the (kosher) theatrical meal is so brief, they sometimes lack the ability to truly delve deep into the themes they want to explore.
The Arc begins with ‘Birth’, by Amy Rosenthal, in which a doctor’s former patient arrives uninvited at the doctor’s house. Questioning his medical decision-making during her birth, she begins probing at him. But that’s all that seems to happen – Birth doesn’t seem to be able to say much more than that. There might have been a metaphor in there for Jewish trauma from the holocaust, and the ability of modern Jews to cope with inherited trauma, but if there was, it is so abstract that it was lost on me.
After a brief blackout, The Arc continues with Alexis Zegerman’s Marriage, which is the highlight of the evening (cementing its place at the peak of the nominal ‘Arc’). Two Jews experience the same disastrous first date repeatedly in a Constellations-esque repeating scene, in which the characters live out the same possible (entertainingly cringeworthy) date in numerous ways, as if the date is occurring simultaneously in parallel universes. Frankly, I don’t blame Zegerman for riffing off Constellations to make a Jewish version – it’s a great premise for exploring an idea.
The Arc then concludes with Ryan Craig’s Death, an exploration of death in Judaism via a bickering and torn apart family’s reunion over the process of Jewish death rites. It’s a humorous enough idea, and works well enough in the moment, but doesn’t quite manage to reach much depth in the theme and only just scratches the surface of exploring what death means in Judaism.
While written by separate writers, all three of the plays are directed by Kayla Feldman, who makes an admirable attempt in the cramped space of the Soho Theatre Upstairs to bring out what she can from the assembled collective of actors, including Nigel Planer, Caroline Gruber and Adrian Schiller (much under-used in his under-10 minutes of stage time), as well as Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Sam Thorpe-Spinks, Abigail Weinstock and Dan Wolff. It’s a cast most directors could only dream of, with talent in abundance.
Yet despite the talent assembled, it’s a shame we rarely were able to see any of them shine to their full potential. Much of the plays felt a touch under-rehearsed, as if we were observing a rehearsed, memorised reading of work-in-progress plays, rather than a fully-staged production of complete works. I fundamentally don’t think The Arc is complete yet, and know that when it is, it will be a much stronger work than it is now.
It’s a nice enough evening, and it’s always good to see new, original Jewish stories brought to life on London’s stages. But without the necessary dramatic power to elevate each story, and without enough development of each theme in each play, it becomes a trio of passing moments, none of which leave enough of an imprint in the mind to stay, like a thin, watery chicken soup (without kneidlach). These are talented performers and creatives – there’s more in The Arc that could be said and with a longer runtime, and refocussed scripts, it may well have been a tremendous evening of Jewish entertainment indeed.
The Arc plays at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until 26th August 2023. Tickets are available from https://sohotheatre.com/events/the-arc-a-trilogy-of-new-jewish-plays/#performances.
Photos by Danny With a Camera