Indecent – Theatre Review

ALTHOUGH the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre building, a stone’s throw from London Bridge, is a physical shadow of its pre COVID self, it can still provide a home for a mighty play.

And there are few plays currently showing in London that is mightier than Indecent. In terms of its powerfulness and poignancy, it envelopes you like a swirling mist on a North Yorkshire moor.  It’s a cacophony of joy, sadness and anger at a prejudiced world. One moment you’re laughing, the next you’re close to tears.

Indecent, written by Paula Vogel, tells the story of the life of a play The God of Vengeance (Got fun Nekome) that was written by a young Polish novelist Sholem Asch. At the heart of Asch’s boundary breaking play is a lesbian love story that tears a Jewish family apart.

It’s a brave play that Asch has penned and it endures a rollercoaster of a ride as it encounters both resistance and acclaim – the initial displeasure of Issac Leib  Peretz (founding father of modern Yiddish literature) in 1907,  international success; and then a shot at Broadway, only to fall foul of obscenity rules (the play is the first to be staged with two women kissing). 

Asch’s interest in his play wanes as he becomes aware of Jewish persecution across Europe. The last time we see part of the play staged is in a Polish ghetto (Lodz) in the early 1940s with the actors – desperately hungry  – wearing yellow stars. As you can imagine, it does not end well. While Asch lives on, he refuses to allow the play to be revived.

Rebecca Taichman has put together a magnificent and clever  production that brims with vitality and originality. The seven actors – and three musicians – are required to work  hard as they play a multitude of roles. One moment, Peretz, the next an elderly Asch. It could be confusing on the eye, but it isn’t – helped in part by a story board on the back wall informing the audience where the series of scenes are set.

The constant in the play is the caring and understated Lemml (Finbar Lynch) who backs Asch from the start and supports the play until he meets his own awful end. Lynch brings a tenderness to the role that pulls on the heart-strings.

The youthful, ambitious and zestful Asch is played by Joseph Timms although by the end of the play, the somewhat tortured individual that he has become is acted out by Peter Polycarpou.

There are some glorious interchanges between Alexandra Silber and Molly Osborne who for the most part play Asch’s lesbians while Cory English excels (amongst other roles) as a tub-thumping American Rabbi railing against the lewdness of Asch’s play. At various stages, Beverley Klein plays the doting wife of both Peretz and Asch.

With marvellous music from Merlin Shepherd (cheeky with the clarinet), Anna Lowenstein and Josh Middleton, this is  play that enthrals from start to finish. Some of the choreography (David Dorfman) is dazzling, especially when scripts are projected on to the faces and bodies of the cast. The rain scene at the end is also both erotic and tragic.

Running until November 27, Indecent is a must see play. It’s a triumph for the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre who had to stop the production last year as a result of lockdown. Let’s hope that in time the ground-floor restaurant will re-open so that theatre goers can enjoy a pre or post show meal.

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