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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Tikkun Olam
Original Theatre Online   Summer 2022

Any human project, however idealistic, will be undertaken by imperfect humans with imperfect motives. But does that contaminate it beyond redemption, or is the attempt to do good worthy of respect for its own sake?

That is the question raised by this new play by Teunkie Van De Sluijs, staged earlier this year by Original Theatre Company and now available online.

In this case the project is a Holocaust Memorial proposed for a London park. Its primary champion is a politician, assisted by his research aide and by a social media expert hired to recruit support, while the opposition comes largely from local residents resisting the loss of a valued neighbourhood park.

But the politician is black, his aide is a middle-class white graduate, and the influencer ticks all boxes, being young, female, black and Jewish.

The boss is using this as a dry run for a Slave Trade Memorial, the aide is just passing through on his career path, the protestor is not wholly pure of anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, and the consultant has to fight an instinctive and overpowering cynicism her life experience has taught her.

Everyone involved has a personal agenda, and the Memorial itself might be only a step toward achieving it.

On one level the play is a lesson in realpolitik, as we are shown that things are accomplished (or not) by succeeding (or not) in harnessing individual energies and ambitions and guiding them toward a common goal which might in fact be nobody's primary objective.

On another level it does raise the moral question of how much compromise and imperfection is to be accepted before the exercise becomes pointless or a perversion of the original intention.

Van De Sluijs is strikingly honest and even-handed in presenting the various characters and their arguments. Almost inevitably the play is built on a string of debates and arguments, and they are strong and fair ones. None of the characters are presented as villains even as their personal agendas and small dishonesties are exposed.

A sense of the playwright's attitude can be found in the play's title, which (as the Jewish character explains) is a Hebrew phrase meaning 'Mend the world,' a basic tenet of Judaism that imposes the moral imperative to do whatever you can to make things better. In short, anything is better than nothing.

The play suffers a little bit from the need to make each of the characters semi-allegorical, representing a race, a class or a type as much as being individuals.

And a climactic 'Plague on all your houses' speech at a public meeting would in reality have been shouted down by almost everyone else there, depriving the speaker, the play and the playwright of the opportunity to say what is said.

But the production more than survives those structural weaknesses, nor is it in any way weakened by being a rehearsed reading that is, the actors carry and rely on scripts, but have fully developed their characterisations.

Credit to director Michael Boyd to guiding them to that level, and to Jake Fairbrother (politician), Luke Thompson (aide), Debbie Korley (consultant) and Diana Quick (protestor) for making what could have been mouthpieces into believable and sympathetic characters in a play that can touch emotions as well as generate thought.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Tikkun Olam - Original Theatre  2022