WhatsOnStage Logo

The Barrier

Sally Llewellyn's new play ''The Barrier'' at the Park Theatre contains some perceptive social observation, but ultimately lacks depth

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
WhatsOnStage logo
Toby Liszt and Dominique Gerrard
© Simon Annand

A common sight for anyone passing through north London's neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, the unfailingly black garb of the orthodox Hasidic Jewish community (strictly dresses or skirts for women, flattened round hats and curlicued twists of hair for men) could be the only flash you get of life in their religious bubble.

New two act play The Barrier at the Park Theatre, which continues to front bold, relevant productions in its first season, could have been a welcome vessel for understanding a little more about this opaque pocket of London.

When Malka (Dominique Gerrard) and Shalev (Toby Liszt) move next door to non-Jewish couple Cas and Sam, they run into conflict. It's forbidden to use electricity on Friday night for holy Shabbat but they keep setting off the outside light of their neighbours. What to do? After an awkward doorstep stand off, tensions simmer and soon frustration sets in for teacher Cas (Antonia Davies).

The studio space is split down the middle by a giant rectangular white oval, with Dan Flavin-style luminous strip lights. Aside from looking quite cool and serving as both wall between the couples' houses and a metaphor for the cultural barrier too, it's a bit cumbersome.

There's funny, perceptive social observation here aided especially by good turns from Davies and Jack Pierce as her ebullient hubby. Gerrard doesn't nail her accent though which is quite distracting, while we never truly get under the skin of her family.

Shalev's mantra, "It is my religion", becomes a barrier of its own which the play never manages to push past. How does he paradoxically feel able to use a mobile phone - the ultimate symbol of modern life - but not to accept a neighbour's automatic light? That sort of conundrum is never tackled. What's more the dramatic rise and fall isn't quite satisfying, even when punctured by the shocking racist chants of neighbourhood drunkard "Mussolini" (Luke Harrison).

At one point Harry (Jeremy Bennet), the assimilated Jewish other half of Cas's hippy mum (a lacklustre Tessa Wood), describes the orthodox culture as an "impenetrable thicket". For Sally Llewellyn perhaps that thicket, that barrier, has proved too much.

- Vicky Ellis


Tagged in this Story