The audience were treated to a warm, entertaining and educational work of chamber theatre with hard working local director Anthony Skuse’s warm, very fine production of Jessica Bellamy’s play SHABBAT DINNER.
A largish crowd gathered in the Stables theatre foyer and were ushered in with a glass of wine or grape juice, not to be enjoyed before the relevant prayer was to be said. The atmosphere was very informal with the performers already around and greeting some of the audience after their walk up the stairs.
We walked into the theatre to see a fully laden Shabbat long table with challah covers and candles. The table had been set for thirteen people. Whilst we were waiting for the Shabbat dinner to commence, Kirsty Marillier tinkered away on a hand drum, getting everyone in the mood.
The Shabbat dinner started in earnest when playwright and host Jessica Bellamy took ‘centre stage’. Jessica wished everyone Shabbat Shalom, the traditional greeting, and also Shana Tova, Happy New Year, as it is currently the Jewish New Year celebrations.
Together with two talented, performers, Amy Hack and Kirsty Marillier, we were entertained by stories about Jessica’s family, its many characters and its troubled history. We also learnt much about the many traditions and much loved rituals of one of the world’s oldest and most respected religions.
We learned that the father of the family always buys flowers for the Shabbat dinner as his way of saying thank you to his wife for providing children.
Prayers were said for the wine and bread after which we all partook of the kosher wine and pieces of challah, placed in baskets, which were passed around the audience to enjoy.
The main part of the show saw the very charming host Jessica Bellamy invite willing members of the audience to sit at the main table, carefully coiffured, and enjoy one of the three courses on offer- from Russian borscht soup to mains Russian rice with stewed vegetables and beans- there was an apology for the absence of meat- and a lovely honey cake desert, a sweet way to finish the show. With each course, a different group from the audience came to the table. Jessica joked if anyone in the audience had an allergy not to partook in the dinner, as ‘we don’t want to get sued’!
Jessica explained the reason why the wife does the blessing over the candles to start Shabbat, as Shabbat is seen as as a bride, beautiful and beloved.
There were many highlights. Jessica way with words, her descriptions were very poetic at times, her quick wit and self effacing humour (an aside-our Hebrew is like our ability to swim laps, it’s a bit shit!), there was a light touch through the show, touchy subjects were brought up with style.
Kirsty Marillier and Amy Hack complemented Jessica beautifully in the way they sang the Hebrew songs and prayers and gave very relaxed and natural performances.
In the previous production one critical Jewish couple said to Jessica she clearly didn’t come from a kosher home, insinuating that she wasn’t Jewish enough! At one time Jessica picked up a trumpet and started playing of all things some bars from Schindler’s List! Irony coming up again.
A highlight was when Amy Hack slipped into a mink coat and put on a South African voice and transformed into Jessica’s much loved ‘bellabusta’ grandmother.
The show covered a lot of territory, At one point we were all asked to stand up and think of someone who has passed on whilst Jessica recited the Mourner’s Prayer.
Jessica closed on a plaintive note, coming full circle, saying that she doesn’t do Shabbat dinners much anymore but that they are still very close to her heart.
The audience responded to this Shabbat dinner with very warm applause. A lovely night in the theatre, Jessica Bellamy’s SHABBAT DINNER is playing the Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross until the 15th September.