The Barrier*** (Park Theatre, 27 September 2013)

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Faced with irksome neighbours, wouldn’t we all sometimes like to just build a barrier between properties and shut them out? This new play begins with one household going to such extremes over what could seem to some a petty dispute and it goes on to examine the consequences for themselves, their neighbours and the surrounding community. Shalev and Malka (Toby Liszt and Dominique Gerrard) are Hasidic Jews who move in next to Cas and Sam (Antonia Davies and Jack Pierce), whose house has an automatic security light covering the approaches. Turning on a light on the Sabbath contravenes strict Jewish teaching, thereby leading to the dispute. When challenged on the unreasonableness of his request to have the light removed, Shalev simply pleads “It’s my religion”. Therefore, the play asks to what extent, in a multi-faith community, is one party entitled to impose religious beliefs and customs on another and whether religion should override all other considerations in disputes. A Polish builder asserts that the British allow minorities to get away with too much, another character proclaims that the World would be a much better place without any religion at all. The arguments are presented and discussed succinctly and with great clarity. The play takes no sides and reaches no conclusions. We see people who are essentially reasonable and tolerant becoming unreasonable and intolerant when under pressure and occasional intrusions by a drunken fascist thug serve as a reminder of the dangers that such a drift can present. As a play debating social and moral issues, this all works very well, but, sadly, it is much less successful as a human drama. Sally Llewellyn has created the characters to demonstrate the points that she wishes to make, but they are one-dimensional and under-developed. This lack of depth gives the actors too little to work on and, as a result, some of the performance often seem laboured and unconvincing. Additionally, the Spartan stage design and bright, harsh lighting give the production a chilly feel that distances us further and counters our efforts to empathise with the characters. It is not until deep into the second act, when both of the wives veer toward breakdowns, that we feel any emotional currents and, by then, it is much too late for us to begin to care. This is an intelligent and topical play that embraces important themes. There is much to stimulate the brain, but, with so little to stir the heart as well, it is ultimately less than satisfying.

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