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FringeReview UK 2023

Arc: Amy Rosenthal Birth, Alexis Zegerman Marriage, Craig Ryan Death


Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fringe Theatre, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Soho Theatre


Low Down

This 65 minutes takes you on a traversal of human, not simply Jewish experience, out of all proportion to its length. One of the highlights of the latter dog-days, or as here, the long night of the hamster. Three leading playwrights showcased by Emanate, which in just two years has shown how essential it already is, how indispensable it can become.

Writers Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman, Craig Ryan, Director Kayla Feldman, Set & Costume Designer  Verity Johnson, Lighting Designer Laurel Marks, Sound Designer Annie May Fletcher, Movement Director Jennifer Fletcher, Assistant Director Olivia Munk, Stage Manager Waverley Moran

Artistic Directors of Emanate Sam Thorpe-Spinks, Dan Wolff, Associate Producer Tanya Truman

PR Chloe Nelkin, Rehearsal Photography Lexi Clare Photography, Graphic Design Helen Rabbitte, rehearsal Space JW3

Till August 26th



Though Emanate Productions provide as director Kayla Feldman puts it: “at a time of rising antisemitism, a vital injection of Jewish culture into the mainstream” it wouldn’t be Jewish without the world-saving vaccine of humour.  But you’ll have to be quick to queue.

Feldman directs the three 20-minute plays describing as their title suggests, an Arc: Amy Rosenthal’s Birth, Alexis Zegerman;s Marriage,  Craig Ryan’s Death run at the Soho Theatre till August 26th. An irritatingly short run, but then look at the actors.

As the second doctor in these plays, Dan, suggests: it’s not amusing ourselves to death, or at death, or even towards death, but having passed through the death of the past, we can enjoy what living future remains. There might be special providence in the fall of a hamster, but hell it’s bloody funny. Just how funny that hamster proves, you really need to find out.

There’s thematic links in the plays’ progression of course, and clearly some agreement over staging and situation. Designer Verity Johnson centres things round a table with cloths comically whipped off mainly by one character, there’s neat lighting by Laurel Marks (sensitive to occasional shadows and gulphs of darkness), and period hits from Annie May Fletcher’s sound design.


Amy Rosenthal Birth

Though the slightest play here, it’s a perfect entrée, and gifts the richest, most suggestive character. We’re  at the comfortable nest-empty, even grand-nest empty house of mainly-retired obstetrician Michael (Nigel Planer) and his laconically amused wife Lynda (Caroline Gruber) who’ve long graduated to cryptic crosswords after plainer ones. They’re celebrating their 50th There’s cake with marzipan.

But someone from those plainer days proves cryptic herself. Naomi (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) arrives, and she’s just turned 50. There’s a link of course. Naomi proves herself “unfinished” and we get the quote Michael half-completes, Naomi feels a bit like Richard III but with a mental hump instead. Myer-Bennett’s somewhat mysterious Naomi crafts a scena of bafflement and discovery, of new therapy and old through-ness. She needs more than a tunnel though, however deflated by Michael suggesting a winch at the top to illustrate C-sections..

And though Michael delivered Naomi, he delivered her early weighing not a lot more than four pounds, Naomi asserts to much bluster from Planer’s thinly reasonable birthside manner. Because he was due off on his holidays and naturally there was a special reason, honeymoon, or proto-honeymoon.

After using the facilities almost immediately (symbolism there but allowing the other two to discuss her) and taking a wodge of marzipan from the more accommodating Lynda, Naomi doesn’t want apologies though, she needs completion. Is she meshuga? There’s an adroit smattering of Yiddish in this play like “schluff”, though not that one. Naomi wants completion. And in an unexpected way.

Gruber and Planer remind one of an older Ayckbourn couple, not wholly unlike those in the ruffled second act of Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking but far more benign. Gruber has the smallest part but makes it telling through a quietly radiant understanding and a final speech which allows something else to happen. Planer in his larger role of the evening walks that paternalist tightrope between old liberal professional, and more atavistic irritation. His integrity, his denial, something some doctors are prone to.

Rosenthal ends this neatly. I can’t help thinking though, especially with Myer-Bennett’s Naomi, that this play might take Naomi somewhere further, perhaps along her own journey through marriage, death, wherever. The character has taken over the clever, rather unique conceit of the play.


Alexis Zegerman Marriage

The world of Nick Payne’s Constellations isn’t far away from this play, with a series of rewinds and false starts till we get the right one. But at least we get to see who does the rewinding.

That’s what happens when the couple meeting up for a first date manage pratfalls of exquisite awfulness, or rather painfully predictable ones, ones much too close to home. Fine performances from hapless “podiatrist from Edgware” Adrian (Sam Thorpe-Spinks, also Emanate co-artistic producer) meeting jaded fashion PR Eva (Abigail Weinstock).

Thorpe-Spinks is by turns goofy and edgy, quietly imploring and ultimately nearly tragic. And he’s nothing like the hapless dork you might think him. Eva too has a backstory, and Weinstock’s final speech where she throws off her brittle professional “seen it before” PR girl-in-the-city mode to reveal something far more vulnerable, is genuinely affecting; perhaps the most moving moment in the three plays. Both, though differently, about the same need. And they’ll need to be quick.

Sara  (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) is one of the most irritated waitresses you’ll see, ticking her pencil in undisguised contempt as Adrian havers over the menu and wine-tastes to death, and sweeping off table-cloths, here and elsewhere: a miniature masterclass in huffiness.

Eva seems sophisticated; Adrian’s supply of Proust quotes in the first mini-scene “because you said you liked reading” a familiar case of overkill and male imagination taking things, er literally. It takes a second or two to adjust to the lightning rewinds that they’re the same couple, not subtly different ones; since behaviour and awkwardness shifts. They’re not quite the same people. That doesn’t matter though as scenes generally lengthen, till finally, well they meet Godfrey. Where something happens. Twice.

The world must be peopled, even by those Jews who don’t necessarily want to go out with other Jews, but just happen to realise that’s what they have here. And who is the intriguingly irritating punter at the next table, Godfrey (Nigel Planer), garbed like someone from The Odd Couple and mysteriously suggesting the brisket? And what has he got to do with the weather? And who’s exempt from paying bills? Not whom you’d guess.

There’s clues in the name. And going forth and multiplying gets taken literally by Zegerman’s Godfrey in another way. Rewind. Rewind. Till you get this oddly-assorted but fundamentally warm-hearted, sensitive, acutely lonely pair to realise their attunement; the small (perhaps larger) tragedies behind their veneer. Oddly one of those pops up almost identically in the next play. Zegerman’s is a satisfying work, a curtain-raiser or an envoi, that brings a heart to its own world.


Craig Ryan Death

Dan (Adrian Schiller) bookends this play, a successful doctor meditating on mortality and (as mentioned above at the start) celebrating living. Like Michael, he’s not always been around when he’s needed, and his children reflect it differently: in neediness and bitterness.

Unlike Michael though, Dan’s acutely aware of his limits, both as father (reminded, lest he forget) and doctor – merely the limits of medicine, he’s a top oncologist and doesn’t slip. Schiller’s gravitas works to ground the play and its humour. Schiller, Dan and Ryan are fundamentally serious about joy and death.

Adam (Dan Wolff, also co-artistic director) is upset at pragmatic sister Leah (Abigail Weinstock) in their run-through of Nan’s funeral arrangements for herself. She’s 76 and healthy. Why tempt fate? Weinstock injects Leah with the brittle end of her Eva moments, both unsentimental and terminally irritated to discover that her brother’s bought a coffin from Amazon – for a hamster. Leah has reasons to be irritated. Wolff’s sentimental Adam (as Eva suggests to Adrian in Marriage) might have abandonment issues. As it happens, they both have, for the same reason.

It’s his daughter’s hamster. And she’s with her mother, estranged from Adam who’s anxious to carry out his daughter’s latest wishes and the little speech she’s written. Leah’s not happy Adam has room to grieve both hamster and a failed relationship. She has her own demons though these aren’t explored. The hamster’s in a large green plastic bag. Here? What?

Ryan’s play though uses the crux of death and mourning to celebrate as well as critique family and other bonds. It’s a subtle, telling comment on how siblings respond to a largely absent, if responsible father, and how their different outcomes then shape their next actions. To Adam, frightened he’ll lose his daughter even on face-time, the hamster takes on enormous significance, and Ryan explores fear and abandonment well. The offstage child’s requests take on an importance way over the top for Leah. And due to a kind of miracle, well, there’ll be some kind of delay. And who’s moved on? Children grow rapidly in six months, and some others don’t.

The end is both comical and touching, the other best moment of the evening. After the great reveal (which is delicious) we’re at a Kaddish of curious proportions. But it’s important we’re at one. As Schiller intones Kaddish and comments again, we’re brought up to both faint absurdity and finality in the same, well breathlessness.


This 65 minutes takes you on a traversal of human, not simply Jewish experience, out of all proportion to its length. One of the highlights of the latter dog-days, or as here, the long night of the hamster. Three leading playwrights showcased by Emanate, which in just two years has shown how essential it already is, how indispensable it can become.