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.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures by Tony Kushner, Hampstead Theatre, 22 October 2016

I’d forgotten how much Tony Kushner likes to write long plays. Perhaps the unfeasibly long title for this play (which Kushner helpfully abbreviates to an Apple-device-like nickname “iHo”) should have reminded me.

But I did remember how superb Angels in America had been in 1993, even though I only saw the first part of that seven-hour epic as I was so poorly the day Janie and I were supposed to see the second half that Janie went to see it alone while I spent the evening (as indeed I had spent the whole day) on the potty.

It had been a long wait for the next Tony Kushner and I snapped up these Hampstead tickets with relish when I saw the superb-looking cast and creatives list for iHo.

Before I forget, here is a link to the Hampstead’s excellent resource on this production of iHo. 

Still, come the weekend of our visit, when I saw that the production was listed as 3 hours and 30 minutes long, my heart sank a bit and I started to formulate contingency, bail-out plans, just in case it was all going to be too much. Two intervals give you extra scope for polite bail-out, of course.

Neither Janie nor I tend to have as much attention span as we once had. Perhaps it is a sign of the times; younger folk these days hardly ever finish a…or perhaps our increasing age decreases our patience – ’nuff said.

I needn’t have worried. The play has plenty going on to hold my attention for that length of time. Janie was less sure about the play than I was, but she was very taken with the performances, the design and the directing.

We ran into John and Linda – a couple we often see at the theatre and who live near the flat in Notting Hill Gate – for the first time in ages – chatting to them made both intervals whizz by.

The play might pick up some criticism for being a long, meandering ramble through an essentially simple plot about a family and their brownstone homestead in Brooklyn. But of course the play covers more than that; homosexuality, capitalism, socialism (and indeed Marxism) naturally show up; to a greater or lesser extent defining characteristics of the complex personalities of the chaotic protagonists.

Central to the plot is the overt and outspoken desire of the central character, a retired longshoreman/union-leader played excellently by David Calder, voluntarily to commit an act of euthanasia. His bisexual employment-lawyer daughter, the equally excellent Tamsin Greig, an intriguing opponent to the idea, matching the old git with her advocacy and connivances to try to steer the outcome her way, metaphorical punch for metaphorical punch.

The rest of the family and their entourages were also wonderfully depicted by this excellent cast. Family row scenes tended to have several people yelling at the same time, yet, through superb writing/directing, I felt that we were getting to hear and follow everything we were supposed to.

Anyway, we saw this production in preview, so the reviews are yet to show. The good ones will (in the fullness of time) be on the Hampstead resource for this production – here’s the link again. You’ll have to find poor/indifferent ones for yourselves unless I decide to return to this page and add some.

I thought this play/production was great and well worth seeing. Janie, less sure about the play, still thought it worth seeing. We both found a light, shawarma supper afterwards well worth eating.