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Bad Jews

Published 22 January 2015

What’s it all about?

Three Jewish cousins at war over a family heirloom, one claustrophobic New York studio flat and an unfortunate girlfriend caught in the crossfire of their vitriolic exchange like a Disney rabbit in the headlights.

If you’re worried about making a scene – and you’d be in good company doing such a thing in the company of this enraged quartet – I’d suggest sitting on your hands for this one theatregoers. If not, you might just find yourself covering your eyes in uncomfortable embarrassment with one and clasping your mouth in shock with the other for the entirety of Joshua Harmon’s riveting – not to mention eye-wateringly hilarious – four hander as this fiery tribe not only get under each others’ skin but scratch and tear at one another while they’re at it for good measure.

Who’s in it?

Jenna Augen as, in the words of her beloved cousin, “super Jew” Daphna. Controlling, passive aggressive, patronising and an absolute master of humiliation, Augen plays the precocious Daphna with such passion that you can’t help but love her. Until you bloody hate her that is. Overbearing and over earnest, Daphna makes for a topical character as her determination to keep the traditions of her Jewish heritage alive bubbles over from religious zeal to downright borderline racism.

Ilan Goodman proves award-winning Augen’s match both in energy and despicableness as Daphna’s polar opposite Liam; a young academic who has replaced interest in his own family’s history with an MA in Japanese culture. Equally judgemental and possibly a touch more enraged, Goodman is a live wire on stage, giving a  brilliantly unpredictable performance that makes for compulsive viewing.  

The final pair – whose characters are lucky to get a word in edgeways – bring less fire but equal comedy with Joe Coen earning best-sitting-on-a-fence-plaudits as the youngest cousin Johan and the brilliantly subtle Gina Bramhill, who avoids easy clichés to bring real warmth – and nauseating sincerity – to the role of the diabetes-inducingly sweet Melody.

What should I look out for?

The singing scene. Good God, the singing scene. I am still wincing at the thought of it 12 hours on.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Henry Goodman was in for press night, swapping the stage for the stalls to support his son Ilan. We spotted him sporting an undeniably proud smile as the company received a well-deserved standing ovation from a few enthusiastic members of the audiences.

In a nutshell?

Cringe and laugh in equal measure as you take your ringside seat for 90 minutes of acerbic battle that will make you want to draw your own nearest and dearest close and pronounce ‘All is forgiven’. This family are the undeniably heavyweight champions of caustic conversation.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@Baddiel Bad Jews @St_JamesTheatre is that rare thing: a properly funny play. Really. You *don’t* sit there thinking: I wish I was watching Peep Show.

@LukeAllenGale ‘Bad Jews’ @JoedotCoen @St_JamesTheatre tonight was a right rumble of rectitude, brilliantly directed & cast. Go see – on til 28 Feb

Will I like it?

Flawless performances and a script that zings off the stage, if you’re looking for an intelligent comedy then look no further. Spikey dialogue, complex characters and touching moments of unexpected poignancy make Michael Longhurst’s production as successful a knockout as one of Daphna’s comebacks.

Bad Jews at the St James Theatre is playing until 28 February. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.

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