New End Theatre, 27 New End, Hampstead, London NW3 1JD
by Sharon Garfinkel
Oy vay! Not another Jewish luvvie exploring their heritage on stage. We recently had film director Mike Leigh’s 'Two Thousand Years' at the National Theatre and now there is actor Stephen Berkoff’s 'Sit and Shiver' at the New End Theatre.
While Leigh’s play dealt with a secular Jewish family’s horror at their son becoming religious, Berkoff focuses on a Jewish family following religious ritual – the week of mourning known as Shiva that Jewish families practice once a member of the clan has died. Of the two plays, I laughed out loud at Berkoff’s while enjoyment was only achieved on a second visit to the National as initially I had felt a Jewish self-consciousness as I watched Leigh’s dirty Jewish linen washed in public.
First presented at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles, two years ago, 'Sit and Shiver' is a hilarious look at how an East End family deals with the loss of their patriarch, tailor Monty. A middle-aged Debby (Sue Kelvin) has lost her father and is mourning with her husband Lionel (Linal Haft). Several visitors come to pay their respects including their two children Shirley (Catherine Bailey) and Mike (Iddo Goldberg), a blind Marxist uncle (Barry Davis) and friend Morris (Saul Reichlin).
At the end of the rather long first act an unknown Mrs Green (Louise Jameson) arrives. Not only does she pay her condolences, but she has a crucial announcement. Debby’s father was not such a good man after all. Mrs Green and the deceased had enjoyed a 30-year affair and had a grown son. The shock sends tremors to an already neurotic family as they deal with this emerging crisis.
The joy of watching this comedy stems from many of the entertaining lines and exaggerated mannerisms, which the cast perform. Berkoff, who also directs the work, follows his usual tradition. Not only is there a slowing and then quickening of action with characters stepping out of a frozen scene to speak to the audience, but there are numerous over-the-top performances. Kelvin is especially outstanding – it would appear as though the raucously extrovert part has been written especially for her. Haft too is wonderful as her dominated hubbie berated for his prostate problem.
You really don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this show.
Playwright & Director: Stephen Berkoff
Opened: 24th May 2006
Closes: 2nd July 2006