A couple of months ago, “Bad Jews” delivered an intense, emotional Jewish story in the West End. As much as I enjoyed the show (my review here), I did feel like the show’s fiery family drama scenes has reached a tad too far for a black comedy show. Since then, I was keen to watch another production that would help me to immerse myself in the Jewish family story again, maybe in a more balanced way. “Candlesticks” seemed like a godsend to my wishes!
This family drama, covering the issue of freedom of choice and a clash of religions, is a very slow burn. But once it gets to the “meat”, in the second act – it gets so intense, I almost expected the silver candlesticks to start flying in the air.
“Candlesticks” is a story about religions, customs, traditions, and making choices. It is also a tale about making huge life changes, that affect everyone in your closest circle in different ways. Lastly, it’s about religious conversions, and the path people have to take to embrace the new faith.
We follow two households who have been neighbours for years; the mothers – lifelong friends with frequently sparky disagreements and their children – childhood sweethearts. But the Jewish daughter (Jenny) makes an astonishing announcement on the eve of Passover, while the gentile son next door (Ian) sets out on his voyage of faith discovery. How can their mothers cope (or not) with children who become so passionately committed to new beliefs that they may be lost to each other and their families?
The play spends almost the entire first act setting the scene, bringing a sense of connection within the family and friends, and mentioning retrospections from the household’s history. It did help to slow down a bit, spend time with the characters and understand their upbringing and stories – but the action moved a bit too steadily in the first act. By the interval, I was fully immersed in the story of both families but I had no idea, what the main point and twist of the story is. Luckily, the second act brought a couple of intense argument scenes and a twist, which all in all, were worth waiting for.
Jenny (Sophie McMahon) is a curiously written character – as a freshly converted Christian, she embodies the energy and hype that I generally notice around adult converts (not just religious ones – even vegan converts tend to have this visible spirit in them!). What doesn’t match her youthful energy is the language, or rather the phrases she uses to explain her emotions. She’s a young woman but speaks as if she was born in the ’40s or 50s. Even the way she spends time with her boyfriend seems just way too innocent. It made it tricky to fully understand Jenny as a character and cheer for her in the end.
Louise (Mary Tillett) and Julia (Kathryn Worth) are such a pleasure to watch. With their calm demeanor and years of exposure to both Judaism and Christianity, they provide a cool balance to the fiery discussions. It’s not a perfect relationship and they both have their trigger points – be it the status of Israel, or Christmas traditions used in a non-religious way. But even though they are fundamentally different, both actresses had warmth in the scenes together, and just gave a realistic impression of lifelong friendship.
“Candlesticks” is a conversation starter. It gives an insight into the life of adult religious converts, but without providing strong judgement. It brings out sensitive faith-related topics but lets them sizzle slowly, instead of burning them with a huge fire. It’s a show for anyone interested in the universal impact of religion on relationships and lifestyle – and for anyone who loves tight-knit family dramas.
Author: Deborah Freeman
Director: Jenny Eastop
Producer: Mercurius Theatre
White Bear Theatre
27 Sept – 15 Oct 2022