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Candlesticks (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Candlesticks

Society: London (professional shows)

Venue: The White Bear Theatre. 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ

Credits: By Deborah Freeman


3 stars

Deborah Freeman’s four-hander play is an interesting exploration of what it means to be Jewish or Christian in 21st Century Britain and it sits quite happily in the White Bear’s intimate square space with audience on two sides.

Jenny (Sophie McMahon) has come home for Seder and it’s the first time she’s seen her mother (Mary Tillett) for several years. Her announcement that she’s become a Christian is a bombshell.  Her mother Louise, it transpires, has very little doctrinal belief although she’s a political supporter of her fellow Jews and enjoys the traditional celebrations. Her daughter’s heartfelt, Christian evangelism and enthusiasm for forgiveness is therefore hard to take.

Next door is the non-Jewish Julia (Kathryn Worth) who doesn’t believe in anything. She’s a single mother and her son Ian (James Duddy). Ian and Jenny have been friends since infancy and the relationship shows signs of developing into something else – until Ian drops his own bombshell and the dynamic shifts.

And we’re left pondering the difference between cultural alignment and religious conviction especially when two young people want, in the opinion of their parents “to put the clock back a hundred years”. Meanwhile, these same young people argue that we live in “a world where we’re all mixed up” which means there’s no need for all this friction.

So it’s a play of ideas. And for the most part it takes the audience along with it without too much didactic information sharing. In places the plot creaks with unanswered questions though. What exactly did Ian do in his teens to worry his mother so much? Louise’s job is a bit vague too. She gives every sign that she’s a teacher and then announces she’s a social worker. And although Jenny’s father is clearly around he is mentioned oddly little. There are a couple of soliloquies which seem jarringly false too.

Possibly because there were press night nerves the first act was a bit wooden and often unconvincingly acted. It warmed up after the interval, however, when we see real distress and tension and there’s a fine scene with Jenny and Ian in which she finally accepts that her life isn’t going to be quite what she’s hoped.


 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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