By Nicholas Wright
The Lowry, 13 March 2012
When I saw this play in the cinema, it worked copacetic, no worries, however in the theatre, its natural home, it thrives.
For there is something fulsome and exhilarating about the panorama of a stage, where the eye can freely roam. In the theatre you also reflect more, perhaps because a cinema screen implies a continuous stream of information, to which you’re obliged to attend.
Here you can see clearly that the play is about a homecoming, an acceptance of Jewish identity, Maurice (or Moti) returning to the fold. You can see also how for Maurice (Paul Jesson), and for Anna (Lauren O’Neil) too, life imitates art.
There’s a game you can play, let us call it ‘Spot the Hollywood convention’ and among the ones to look out for here are the casting couch, the Hays law, focus groups, schmaltzy endings… and the like. The chief subversion of the play, however, although it’s done with a light touch, is to undermine the cult of the director and their precious, so-called possessive credit. Somewhere Harlan Ellison, a thunderer against the said possessive credit, is smiling with delight.
Nicholas Wright has written a fine play full of humour and humanity which is, in effect, a love letter to Jewishness and Hollywood, or call it Jewish cinema by another name. There are many excellent performances, above all from Paul Jesson, Lauren O’Neil and, of course, the wonderful Antony Sher, who plays Jacob.