One Jewish Boy
Trafalgar Studio 2 Spring 2020
One Jewish Boy by Stephen Laughton takes a brave
step in giving us a play whose dramatic talking point is intended to
be the highly charged and important one of anti-Semitism.
Jesse (Robert Neumark-Jones), a middle class lad from Highgate in London, is brutally beaten in 2013 by a racist who makes it clear the reason is anti-Jewish prejudice. 'Hitler was right.' we hear the assailant say.
The trauma of what happened leads him to be especially sensitive to the rising levels of anti-Semitism in England and across Europe. It also leads him to be nervous of others, by for instance crossing the road when he sees a black man. and to become increasingly argumentative with his partner Alex (Asha Reid), a mixed heritage woman from Peckham.
If the description sounds promising, the actual
script is weak. Most of its ninety minute length is a very
lightweight, occasionally funny equivalent of an afternoon radio soap
romance whose short scenes bob backwards and forwards in time, never
stopping long enough to offer any depth.
Tacked awkwardly onto this
is the bit about the anti-Semitic paranoia of Jesse, who talks about
'inherited trauma' and a half-dozen other notions that, according to
Alex, make him sound like an academic. When she objects to their son
being circumcised, he starts to accuse her of being 'border-line
anti-Semitic.' No wonder she leaves him.
Actually, you could
understand both actors leaving him, because he isn't a realistic
character. His words are what the writer would like him to
say, what it is safe to say, rather than what emerges fluently from
It’s also why this version of the play is softer than the earlier version at the Old Red Lion, where he was more arrogantly irritating and in one scene very critical of Israeli politicians. I’m not saying either of those changes shouldn't have been made. But the changes didn’t solve the character's basic problem of believability.
And of course even as a gentle political
provocation, the play may still bother an audience. You can see some
people perhaps worrying that it trivialises the issue of prejudice,
that by suggesting Jess is paranoid, it gives racists a bit of a
cop-out on something that is a real continuing threat.
Others who recognise that trauma can cause an overreaction to a very real danger in the community may still be irritated by a brief, rushed and unnecessary scene in which Jesse is defending to Alex his 2019 election campaign for the Liberal Democrats with his supposed need to get away from what he claims to be the toxic ant-Semitism of Jeremy Corbyn.
There are many people bewildered by the debate
around ant-Semitism who react by trying to keep well away from the
subject. And that frustrates those of us who would like to see it
properly understood and strongly challenged rather than waved about
like some scary flag. Maybe now is not the time when that is
Certainly this slight romance, in its present form, doesn't come anywhere near what is needed.
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Review - One Jewish Boy - Trafalgar Studio 2, 2020