One Jewish Boy follows Alex and Jesse whose marriage is struggling as a result of Jesse’s trauma from an anti-Semitic attack a few years previously. Much like Jesse’s body, his mind is under threat from ideas which threaten his Jewish identity and his everyday life becomes filled with paranoia of ‘another holocaust’.
This couple’s story is told through snapshots with the year being projected on the wall behind them showing their relationship at present, and the moments that determined its path. Jesse and Alex have been together since 2012, prior to Jesse’s attack, and the attraction between them is intense but also volatile: in some moments they caress and entwine and in others they intensely propel away from one another.
Whilst the love between these two characters is clear, Jesse’s paranoia following his assault is tearing their marriage apart. At first this paranoia manifests in not leaving the house, but in later years it becomes an obsession with looking at Rightmove and how safe the locations are for Jewish people. Jesse’s repetitive thoughts create a rift between them, and Alex considers divorce because she cannot cope with being shut out of Jesse’s narrative of the world around them. Alex, as a mixed-race woman, explains to Jesse that he is not the only one who faces prejudice, however, Jesse is too wrapped up in the discrimination against himself to listen to her lived experience.
This complicated relationship is played out in one of the most intimate spaces of London’s West End as they perform their partnership in a box outlined by strips of light. This design by Georgia de Gray is a simple and yet effective use of the space as the audience peeps through the windows into their life.
Both actors are equally strong in their performances which require a vast range of emotions. Particularly impressive for me are the small moments of affection between Jesse (Robert Neumark-Jones) and Alex (Asha Reid). Neumark-Jones pretends to nibble at her stomach making her giggle girlishly, calls her hot during the middle of an argument to her infatuation, and both break into song mid-sentence multiple times. This authenticity in a long-term relationship is rarely seen in theatre.
Reid’s physicality for me embodies some of the most intense moments of the piece. Her fingers gnarl as 2003 Alex embodies the ecstasy she has taken – her eyes lack focus, her body sways erratically. Whilst giving birth she arches her back and howls with an intensity that cuts deep into the audience.
Stuart Laughton’s exquisite writing coupled with raw emotional performances makes for a highly-thought provoking production.
This performance has been cancelled until further notice. For more information please see the Trafalgar Studios site.