A MODEST AND REMORSEFUL SELF-REBUKE
There’s a curious outbreak of reparations going on. The Old Vic, which binned Into the Woods in outrage at Terry Gilliam’s reportedly incorrect tastes in mocking comedians , has suddenly staged a fabulous “burn” of just such ultra-wokery, in Eureka Day. And now the Royal Court, excoriated for instinctive antisemitism after calling a rapacious cartoonish financier Herschel Fink, nimbly mounts this Jonathan Freedland piece. It consists of mainly verbatim interviews with British Jews and – nice touch – starts it with a bolt-from-heaven visual joke about how the cultured, educated be-kind Left (including the Court itself) finds it curiously difficult to shake off antisemitism. Or even to see it as real racism.
So they set off to explain its roots, actors using the words of professionals and MPs (Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger), of a decorator and a social worker, a doctor, and the actress Tracy Ann Oberman who (scroll below) I had seen the previous night in Noises Off. The idea that all Jews are rich, or related to wealth and influential, is tackled with amused contempt. I love the geezerish decorator who says his mates at work wonder why he isn’t a lawyer. And adds – Jewish mother joke alert! – that his mother wonders the same.
There is a bit of upstage medieval dressing-up as they run is through the 12c massacres at York, Norwich and Lincoln and reveal the theory, new to me, that it was actually England which first spread into Europe the “blood libel”, about Jews murdering children. The automatic human desire to blame “others” provokes an entertaining mass singalong of “It was the Jews who did it, the Jews who did it – whatever it was” . And when it comes to conspiracies we see some of the wilder US tweets about poisoned coca cola and secret Jewish levers causing wildfires. There are laughs. There should always be laughs about this dark paranoia, for only mockery will dispel it. There are also useful observations about the difficulty too many British people seem to have in distinguishing between distaste for actions by the state of Israel and antisemitism in general.
The mood darkens deeply in the last half hour, first with the MPs’ truly horrifying experiences of online hatred, and an intense focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour years and the damage done there. Finally some thoughtful, extended family memories. Individuals quote their family experience of shtetls and pogroms, the Holocaust itself, and less known horrors like the 1960’s rounding up of Iraqi Jews. It’s powerful, though often oddly , ruefully gentle in the telling. The cumulative historical effect gave me more understanding than I have felt before about Jewish friends who say that somewhere in them still there is a feeling that there should always be a suitcase ready by the door and a passport for flight. Here! now! In mild modern England, which has not only heavy discrimination laws but had a Jewish PM over a century ago, and innumerable leaders and national treasures down the years. But fair enough: the feeling is real in many. And if it is paranoia, it is a reflection of the opposing paranoia that for centuries alienated them.
It’s a useful show. At least I hope it is. On the way out I met, amazedly, my most obviously Jew-mistrusting friend, a man who I have several times berated or teased about it, regarding his conspiracy theories as ridiculous. “Did the show work, then?” I asked, astonished to see him there.
He looked darkly at me, with the unmistakeable air of a man who at some point lost out professionally to a cleverer-and-Jewish rival. “I could tell you things” he said.
So no, it won’t work on everyone. Shame.
BOX OFFICE. Royalcourttheatre.com. To 22 Oct
Rating three as theatre, five for usefulness.