Theatre review: Jews - In Their Own Words

LAST year, there was an outcry when it was discovered that the main protagonist in the Royal Court’s production of Al Smith’s
Rare Earth Mettle, an unpleasant Silicon Valley billionaire, was called Hershel Fink. The name was changed before first night, but the damage had been done.


Jews: In their Own Words opens with a nod to this controversy. A man appears on stage dressed in a loincloth, accompanied by a clap of thunder. We are informed his name is Hershel Fink and the brief prologue serves to remind us that he is, partly, the catalyst for the work that follows.


The verbatim drama was put together by Jonathan Freedland, Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent, and was originally inspired by an idea by actor-writer Tracy Ann-Oberman.


Seven actors represent 12 Jewish interviewees, who reflect on the long history of antisemitism and relate their own experiences.


They range from the famous to the ordinary and include Oberman, former Labour MP Luciana Berger, author Howard Jacobson, Labour politician Margaret Hodge, political journalist Stephen Bush and social worker Victoria Hart.


The play is divided into three sections that look at “money”, “blood” and “power” and we are taken through various examples of historical prejudice through to the present day. Jews have been accused of many things from manipulating the media to spreading Covid through Coca-Cola.


The dramatised interludes – the mimed history of money lending and blood-libel (performed in medieval cloaks and masks) and the song and dance It Was the Jews That Did It – work well and punctuate the heartbreaking personal accounts of prejudice.


The play runs out of steam in the latter half, which is mainly delivered as a polyphonic lecture. Nevertheless, this is an important theatrical intervention and a compelling examination of antisemitism in all its forms.


Until October 22

Originally published by Camden New Journal/Westminster Extra