Rikki Beadle-Blair’s new play, Shalom Baby at Stratford East, is a hard-to-follow blizzard of slogans, poetry break-outs and sudden love stories that claims historical provenance in Berlin, Brooklyn and Auschwitz without establishing either the truth of the locations, or indeed that of the characters.
The Theatre Royal, one of the most beautiful Victorian houses in London, has been altered into a traverse arrangement, with the audience sitting on either side of the proscenium. Nothing much is gained from this apart from indulging the frenetic movement of the cast and the quick-changing focus of dramatic attention.
A Jewish family takes in a black “Shabbes Goy”, a non-Jew who can help out around the house when religious observance takes over, and the daughter falls in love; he asks for her hand – and indeed the rest of her – in marriage. Meanwhile, an adopted Balkan boy, “a souvenir from Sarajevo” is immersed in a swirl of sexual confusion and anti-racist propaganda.
The window smashing violence of Kristallnacht alluded to in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, now being revived in the West End, signals the end of the first act here, and by the end of the second, we’re in Auschwitz with renewals of love vows and historical summaries. Along the way we’ve had a tumult of bland, automatic references to boxing, the music industry and sexual exchanges that challenge taboos of sex, race and gender.
It’s all too much and too little at the same time. One can at least salute a hard-working cast of seven who do their author’s bidding with energy and vitality. Beadle-Blair also directs, a very bad idea that only protects his own scattergun, hare-brained writing and defies any hint of theatrical intelligence or clarity.