The White Bear Theatre, Kennington, London.
The year is 2012. Nuclear war has wiped the Capitalist world off the face of the earth. A moderately wealthy Jewish family from New York is living in one of the few radiation-free places on earth – a post-modern soviet Russia run by evil Mafia.
This is the setting for Julian Sims’ new play, and we are immediately drawn in to the lives of this dysfunctional wisecracking family as they bicker and trade insults whilst doing sudoku puzzles and pulling apart flip-flops. The script crackles with Jewish wit and humour, reminiscent of Neil Simon at his very best. Its construction is watertight, and its pace gallops along nicely, carrying the audience with it as the plot twists and turns and the drama unfolds, until it reaches an ending which is extremely satisfying and is underplayed nicely so as to avoid any sentimentality.
It is an experienced cast on display here and they command the stage with ease, giving confident, assured performances. John Guerrasio as Sam and Sue Kelvin as Barbara not only give wonderfully nuanced performances which move with consummate ease between comedy, drama, farce and real poignancy, but are also utterly believable as a long-suffering married couple. Drew Horner as their son Victor oozes charm and likeability, playing to perfection the good Jewish boy.
It is these three who carry the story, but they are brilliantly supported by the rest of the cast. There isn’t a single weak link in this production. Bernice Stegers is wonderfully deadpan as the sinister next door neighbour, Joe Ferrera as Ivan portrays evil Mafia with alarming ease, and Benny Maslov as Victor’s friend Oleg possesses a lovely feeling of vulnerability. And Freddy Drabble and Andrei Zayats, who have just five minutes of stage time in the second act as Mafia goons, are an entertaining double act to watch, at one and the same time bringing a sense of real menace and almost Pythonesque bizarreness.
Michael Kingsbury has done an excellent job in assembling this cast. His direction is solid and simple, and doesn’t get in the way of the skillful performances and great material. This is a hugely entertaining piece of theatre put together by an award-winning team, and it deserves every night to have the house packed as full as the night I saw it.
(originally posted 11 April 2010)