Any play where the whole set is a swimming pool is always going to be a winner in my books. And The Mikvah Project, currently playing at Hackney Wick’s trendy The Yard Theatre does not disappoint, full to the brim with humour, clever staging, heart, and colourful floatation devices.
I’m not proud to admit that I have little to no knowledge of Jewish culture, so I had plenty to learn from this play. To clarify for those who don’t know, a mikvah is a ritual bath designed for the Jewish rite of purification (hence the pool). There, 17-year-old Eitan (Oliver Coopersmith) and 35-year-old Avi (Jonah Russell) meet. They form an unusual bond, but soon their friendship threatens to disrupt their entire lives when Eitan can no longer hide his feelings for Avi, and Avi must decide what kind of person he really wants to be. For the specificity of its world and setting, The Mikvah Project nonetheless speaks numerous universal truths: it is about love unrequited, the social codes which can entrap us, and how a heart breaks.
The atmosphere this play creates, with its subtle performances, the set, the clever lighting and sound, is unique and simply wonderful. The storytelling is gentle, nuanced, and intriguing; never in your face but instead inviting and warm. The characters compelling: Oliver Coopersmith as the young Eitan is in turns hilarious and heart-wrenching. Jonah Russell captures Avi’s inner conflict perfectly. Director Jay Miller tells the story with cleverly timed moments of direct address and encounters in the mikvah. The actors record the music live on a loop pedal adding undertones of urgency and longing: nothing is hidden from the audience’s view in this production making it feel open and honest, like we’re a part of the story too.
There is something unusual about The Mikvah Project, from the mode of storytelling, to the set and subject matter. It wrong-foots you at first, but quickly draws you in, as start to we root for these men to shirk their social responsibilities and find each other, whilst all the time knowing they can’t and won’t. It makes for compelling viewing, with plenty of food for thought and a healthy number of belly laughs to boot. For a touching and unique night at an exciting and edge London fringe venue, put The Mikvah Project at the top of your list.
The Mikvah Project is playing at The Yard Theatre until 14 March. For more information and tickets, see The Yard Theatre website. Photo by Mark Douet.