‘I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.’ Act III, Scene V, Hamlet
My People opens with an interview with seventeen-year-old Asha, who is about to be released from the psychiatric unit where she has undergone care. Much to her unease, Asha’s move home coincides with the Jewish Passover festival, and her mother, Debra, is desperate to get the whole family together to celebrate the religious occasion. The drama centres around one meal, yet this evening packs in a whole lot of comedy, tension and plot twists as the story unfolds.
As we move to the family home, the incredible setting of the play is revealed. An entire kitchen and dining room have been set in the centre of the theatre with intricate attention to detail. The audience surrounds this ‘transparent’ family home, gaining a full insight into the family dynamics and feeling truly a part of the celebrations. Great humour arises from the familiar stressful experiences of the family occasion. We see Debra in a state of panic and frustration, attempting to follow an American cooking tutorial - rather misdirecting her concern considering she wants to try to ensure that her children do not broach the subject of Asha’s psychiatric treatment upon her return home. The humour only intensifies as the family arrive and we get a charming insight into the family relationships. The mother-son bond between Debra and Eli is utterly hilarious as she offers her unflinching support for his latest ridiculous app idea of ‘topcorn’ (after many other unsuccessful entrepreneurial ventures) and launches a photoshoot while he offers his dramatic reading of the Jewish prayer book. Ella Margolin and Oskar House are fantastic in these roles and their performance will definitely conjure up some familiar family faces in your mind!
The presence of Toby, Rachel’s non-Jewish boyfriend, at the family dinner, adds an additional layer of comedy to the dynamics and offers an interesting insight into the Jewish traditions from an outside perspective. Toby, wonderfully brought to life by Daniel Sved, is incredibly popular with the whole family and is keen to impress Debra with his efforts in the Passover celebrations. As family relationships break down and tensions rise in the latter half of the play, Toby’s presence becomes increasingly awkward and his feeble attempts to excuse himself from the dinner are hilariously shot down by an enraged Debra.
The breakdown of celebrations in the second act also establishes an emotive encounter between the sisters as they connect over their struggles of living with an over-bearing mother and their difficult relationship with mental health. Rachel, played by Holly Cattle, helps to break Asha’s sense of isolation she feels facing her mental health issues by revealing her own challenges with depression in the past. Eden Peppercorn, playing Asha, offers a beautiful vulnerability and naturalism to the role and the two characters share in a truly tender moment of empathy and common experience. The girls’ relationship with their father, James, played by Jacob Longstaff, creates another interesting dynamic, as despite his weaknesses in fulfilling his paternal responsibilities, they feel a great deal of love and loyalty towards him. Their blasé discussion of how he will fare in prison, met with James’ low-energy, dead-pan responses, offers a humorous depiction of their unusual relationship.
My People is a great example of the remarkable array of dramatic talent in Bristol. From the cast’s excellent performance to the work of the prop department and the direction team, the play is effectively executed at all levels. Elliot Brett’s writing is incredibly impressive, interweaving subtle and witty humour with moments of high-comedy to keep the audience in constant laughter. The play achieves the difficult task of driving an emotive narrative and facilitating character development while still maintaining a great deal of comedy throughout. An extensive knowledge of the Jewish faith, or a Rabbi in your contacts list, is not necessary to have you in stitches of laughter at this humorous and exciting piece!