The EUTC’s production of EZRA, written and directed by Stella Green, is a heart-warming portrayal of the trials and tribulations of secular Jews living in Britain. The play follows Mother Ellen (Florence Elliot), her two children Noya (Hannah Churchill) and Ezra (Levi Mattey), in their plight to successfully conduct their Passover dinner. However, the play takes a dark turn when traumatic secrets from Ezra’s past are revealed. It is the alternation between two scenes, one of a happy family sharing a meal and one of Ezra confronting his demons, that speaks volumes about the challenges facing the diaspora Jewish community.
The play begins with the family clumsily attempting to do various Passover rituals. Ellen describes this scene as ‘Bad Jews do Passover’. They use Haribo eggs instead of real eggs, they forget the name of the Jewish prayer book, and they awkwardly read Hebrew blessings incorrectly. These small miscalculations paired with the constant flow of sibling bickering between Noya and Ezra makes the play all the more realistic. The intimacy of Ezra and Noya’s dynamic is clearly a testament to hours’ worth of rehearsals. The close community-orientated nature of Judaism is wonderfully depicted through their relationship. The light-hearted tone of the opening scenes makes what comes next even more harrowing.
The entrance of the boy (Yann Davies), paired with the ominous flickering lighting and sound, reveal a much bleaker theme to the play. After Noya mentions a bad haircut she had when she was younger, Ezra becomes fixated on his inability to remember it and the lack of picture evidence to prove it. The quest to discover this lost family history is skilfully mirrored in the hunt to find the Afikoman, a half piece of Matzah (unleavened flatbread) that is hidden for the children of the family to find as part of the Passover ritual. In a mission to discover what he has forgotten, Ezra and the boy place pictures along a washing line with a gap missing for the year 2004. This almost playful scene between Ezra and the boy provokes a palpable tension in the audience that encourages even greater sympathy for Ezra.
EZRA’s depiction of a boy suffering because of a suppressed family history, paired with Ellen’s compassionate and consoling maternal instincts, creates a real sense of despondency amongst the audience.
It is, however, worth mentioning that while a Jewish person watching the performance might understand and appreciate the clearly well-scripted and articulated anecdotes and gags, these may be lost on others.
The closing scene of the play is incredibly powerful, ending on a famous Jewish line often quoted at the end of the Seder: ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. This line carries multiple meanings, but to many diaspora Jewish people indicates a longing to be able to have a Jewish home. This play has been hugely symbolic in creating a dialogue around what it means to be Jewish and how the growing issues facing diaspora Jews can be better addressed.
Ezra originally ran at Bedlam Theatre on the 13th and 14th of November 2019 and was performed again as part of Bedfest 2020.
Featured image by Charlie O’Brien