The Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s production of Ezra tells the story of three secular Jews clumsily doing Passover dinner. It is humorous to start, but as the play proceeds dark truths are revealed. The play debuted in November 2019 and returned to the stage for Bedfest 2020. The Student sat down with writer and director, Stella Green and actress Hannah Churchill (Noya), to find out more about the play.
Stella, what made you want to write this piece?
“This piece came out of a frustration more than anything, both with the climate that was building politically regarding Jewishness and to do with conversations within theatre that flared up after the showing of Falsettos this summer. It was a play brought over from the US about Jewishness but was directed and performed by an entirely non-Jewish cast. The theatre industry dealt with the issue incredibly poorly, platforming non-Jewish voices before Jewish voices. This opened the conversation about who has the right to tell Jewish stories and for me having seen little Jewishness at Edinburgh and feeling isolated in that, I thought there was a gap that needed to be filled.”
What were you hoping the audience would go away and feel?
“There’s two angles to it: the work that I’m interested in is making people feel things, so I was really keen for people to feel connected to each other. In a conversation that’s often so isolating I just wanted even one person to feel less alone. Simultaneously I really wanted that discussion of Jewishness and people who weren’t Jewish to come to the show and think ‘I didn’t know you could be Jewish in that way’ and start that conversation.”
What was it like doing it with people of different faiths?
“In our first rehearsal our production team of different faiths told us that it was our responsibility to ask questions and do research, to be curious and care about representing this family and to keep it complex. So, no it wasn’t at all weird. I didn’t feel apologetic, which made me realise I probably do feel apologetic a lot of the time about speaking about Jewishness in a way that people don’t expect you to. I felt like I was sharing.”
Were the characters based on people you knew?
“Initially I thought they were distinct people but then we started deconstructing and asking questions. I realised it was all this messy, blurring of so many different people and that was what was incredibly rewarding. I learnt so much about what I had written in a way that I didn’t expect to.”
What has your experience been while writing this piece, and was it executed in the way you expected?
“The process of writing it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. It’s scary to have written anything from such a place of honesty and then give actors ownership over those people and ask them to make them whole, but it was dealt with so delicately and I’m really grateful for that.”
What is your favourite part of the play?
Hannah: “I loved the brother-sister back and forth, getting all the Passover things wrong and the ridiculous arguments. I feel like often working on a play for that long you can often get those small interactions wrong but me and Levi had so many hours between us to create the perfect dynamic.”
Stella: “The final prayer in Hebrew around the bucket I feel very proud of. There was so much self-censorship whilst I was writing it. I wanted it to be relatable to a non-Jewish audience, so I felt I had to compromise my Jewishness at times. I was so happy with the final prayer because it ended on such an uncompromisingly Jewish note.”
Stella and Hannah also tell The Student of their hopes of growing this unique piece of writing about what it means to be Jewish today into a larger production in the future.
Featured image © Charlie O’Brien