Indecent finished its run at the Menier on Saturday 27th November.
‘Structurally, Indecent is a play within a play within a play, positing that we are watching performances across many years by a Yiddish theatre company of a production about the life, despite numerous death threats, of God of Vengeance. With spectacular dexterity of voice (speech and song), body and costume, seven actors share, with only spasmodic confusion, 42 roles, ranging from a Warsaw tailor to a Nobel prize winning American playwright. A klezmer band trio is integrated into a Rebecca Taichman production full of visual coups. Projected text falls across faces and the stage like a snowstorm.
Fast-moving, time and place signalled by captions on the back of the gilded proscenium, the cast show us young Asch’s anxious presentation of his first play to sceptical elders (middle-aged bearded chaps reading as lovesick girls are wickedly funny). The visionaries understand that “We need plays in Yiddish to represent our people, speak of our sins. Why must Jews always be heroes?” Others fear – presciently – that its frankness will fuel antisemitism. But as Asch says, “Ten Jews in a circle accusing each other of antisemitism” is pretty normal. And it is 1907: Berlin will surely love its brave sexual fluidity? “All Germans can talk about is Dr Freud!” The cast briefly becomes a Berlin cabaret, complete with Peter Polycarpou and his beard in exhilarating feather-capped drag.
Choreographed by David Dorfman, the trouple’s dancing is a constant delight, in particular that of Peter Polycarpou as the chief protagonist, who moves effortlessly from elderly shuffling to mischievous leaps for the sheer joy of movement.
Lynch is terrific as Lemml; talking to the audience, he guides us through the unforgettable story of the Vilna Troupe. His performance is tender, loving and his reverence for Asch warms the audience into a beautiful world of theatre. Joseph Timms offers a compelling, perhaps overenthusiastic Asch, who spends large parts of the play disenfranchised from his creation, traumatised by what he saw in Poland. Peter Polycarpou is charismatic and colourful, playing the famous actor Rudolf Schildkraut, while Molly Osbourne and Alexandra Silber have excellent stage rapport as the two lovers.
Back now at the intimate (though marvellously well ventilated) Menier Chocolate Factory, Vogel’s text, which could have been heavy, burdened by the weight of years, themes and anguish, is refreshingly endearing, fleet and humourous: the half-score company of actors and musicians (the line blurs frequently) are a whirligig of whimsy, multi-rolling across the time periods with a select few recurring figures denoted by simple props in Rebecca Taichman’s economic production, helped by wise choices courtesy of designer Riccardo Hernandez.
But while it might feel a bit more exposed in a bigger, drier staging, Taichman’s intimate Menier production is pure magic, with an excellent, multinational, multitalented (lots of singing, lots of dancing, lots of playing of instruments), largely Jewish ensemble tearing joyously through the material, from an opening scene in which dust literally falls away from each actor as they tear the play back from the ashes of history, through a riotously sexy and absurd Berlin bit and on to the talkier US sections.
The Indecent Company
Cory English returns to the Menier where he previously appeared in She Loves Me. His recent theatre work includes Curtains (Wyndham’s Theatre), Young Frankenstein (Garrick Theatre), The Producers (UK tour) and Urinetown (St James & Apollo Theatre).
Beverley Klein‘s previous theatre credits include Young Chekhov Trilogy (National Theatre), Six Characters in Search of an Author (Young Vic), Romeo and Juliet, The Villain’s Opera and Summerfolk (National Theatre).
Finbar Lynch‘s previous theatre credits include Girl From the North Country (Noel Coward Theatre, Gielgud Theatre and Toronto), The Lady From the Sea, Fool for Love, Translations (Donmar Warehouse), Richard III (Almeida Theatre), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Antony and Cleopatra and Not About the Nightingales (National Theatre).
Molly Osborne returns to the Menier Chocolate Factory after having appeared in Fiddler on the Roof (also Playhouse Theatre).
Alexandra Silber‘s previous theatre credits include Fiddler on the Roof (Broadway), West Side Story (San Francisco Symphony. Grammy nomination), Master Class (Kennedy Center, Manhattan Theatre Club), Carousel (Savoy Theatre – TMA for Best Performance in a Musical) and The Woman in White (Palace Theatre).
Joseph Timms‘ previous theatre credits include A Christmas Carol (RSC), The White Devil, The Taming of the Shrew, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, Bedlam (Shakespeare’s Globe), Twelfth Night and Richard III (Belasco Theatre, Broadway), Bracken More (Tricycle Theatre), Privates on Parade (Noel Coward Theatre), Richard II (Donmar Warehouse) and Twelfth Night (National Theatre).