Review: Beau Jest
Hackney Empire, London E8
James Sherman’s Jewish rom-com is thankfully a lot funnier than its naff punning title. It is set in a Chicago apartment in the ’80s, where Sarah Goldman (Lara Pulver) hosts dinners, including a Seder, for her overbearing parents Miriam and Abe (Sue Kelvin and Jack Chissick). She has told them, and her psychologist brother Joel (Alexander Giles), that she has ditched Christian Chris (Alex Hardy) for a boyfriend called Dr David Steinberg. Trouble is, David does not exist and Chris is still in her life. So she hires actor Bob (Adam Rayner) from an escort agency to pretend to be her Jewish boyfriend. Trouble is, Bob also turns out to be a gentile.
You do not need to be Jewish to understand how children are pressurised into marrying the boy or girl of their parents’ dreams. But Jews will laugh loudest at the funniest lines.
“What are you, Sephardi?” asks Kelvin’s intimidating mother.
“No”, says the floundering Bob, “I’m Jewish.”
“I know what you mean,” she says, with a wave of her hand.
There are also some beautifully observed moments in the Seder scene, with Chissick’s Abe flicking through the Hagadah at light-speed, capturing the fond irreverence of many a Passover service. But keeping the ’80s setting does nothing for this play. I gather Sherman insisted on no changes, which has needlessly shackled Susie McKenna’s well-performed production with a near-fatal datedness. Still, Rayner’s performance as the non-Jewish Bob is (paradoxically) pure Seinfeld, and worth the price of a ticket alone. (Tel: 020 8985 2424)