Filthy Business by Ryan Craig, Hampstead Theatre, 15 April 2017

Another visit to the Hampstead (upstairs this time), another Ed Hall triumph.

This is a very interesting play with a superb cast, very cleverly staged and directed. All the main papers have given it rave reviews; deservedly so.

You can read all about it here on the Hampstead site, click here, including links to those excellent reviews, sparing me the trouble.

The central story, a Jewish family business dominated by a matriarch who has brought a lot of attitude with her from the old country, naturally resonated with me. Not that the Harris family was at war with itself in the manner of the tragi-comic Solomon family of this play, thank goodness.

Dad’s shop – a relatively tranquil place

Sara Kestelman as the matriarch, Yetta Solomon, was simply superb. We have seen her several times before; I especially remember her in Copenhagen at the RNT years ago and more recently in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide at the Hampstead – click here, but this Yetta role might have been written for her.

As the play went on and the depths of Yetta’s schemes and subterfuges come to light, her character reminded me increasingly of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Perhaps this was Ryan Craig’s intention, as Yetta confides in the audience in very “Dick the Shit” style towards the end of the play.

The ghastliness of the Solomon family and the extent of the machinations at times errs towards caricature, yet Ryan Craig (perhaps combined with Ed Hall’s skilled direction) kept us caring enough about the characters and willing to go with the flow of the plot, even at its extremes. The funny bits are mostly very funny; the confrontational bits thrilling and shocking.

The Yetta Solomon character sees keeping the family together (and in the family business) to be so important as to override pretty much all other practical and moral imperatives. This is Yetta’s flaw, her tragedy.

I recognised some of the characteristics from my own family – the story Yetta tells from her childhood in the shtetl – of chasing Cossack trouble-makers away with a stick – was almost word for word a story I remember my Grandma Ann telling me.

But I don’t believe Grandma Ann used divide and rule to try to keep the Harris family together and she was certainly willing for (indeed she encouraged) her boys to branch out into other businesses – e.g. my father’s and Uncle Alec’s photographic businesses.

Grandma Ann: Harris family business matriarch, yes, machinations, no.

But Filthy Business makes you think well beyond the family and its business. It is a play about the immigrant experience, about London in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, about inter-generational change.

I had been impressed by Ryan Craig’s plays before – we saw The Glass Room at the Hampstead 10+ years ago and more recently The Holy Rosenbergs at the RNt – both of which will find their way to Ogblog in the fullness of time.

To my (and Janie’s) taste, Filthy Business is Ryan Craig’s best play yet and we look forward to more good stuff from him.

As for our grub after the show, we had over-catered so successfully for lunch with Kim and Micky the day before – click here – we had plenty of food for a grazing supper…or three. We chatted through the many interesting issues and great performances we’d just seen as we grazed.

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