THE DYBBUK
New End Theatre, London NW3
Opened 25 June, 1992

It was a pity someone felt impelled to begin the applause; minutes of stunned silence made a more fitting tribute. Where Bruce Myers' magical but stagey Dybbuk (seen at Hampstead earlier this year) is a celebration of various manifestations of love, Julia Pascal's unremittingly dark version concentrates on cultural identity.

A prologue on memories of the Holocaust gives way to a WW2 ghetto; a number of secular Jews, in hiding from the (here) inevitable round-up for extermination, enact the Chassidic tale of the Dybbuk, in which the spirit of a dead scholar possesses the body of his beloved. As the story (with its pervasive strain of cabbalism/mysticism) revolts against the tellers and they against it, definitions of Jewishness are thoroughly and minutely interrogated. But it is never completed: at the climactic moment of exorcism an explosion signals the irruption of the stormtroopers and a prolonged, chilling danse macabre of annihilation ends the proceedings.

It feels cowardly to wish for even a couple of moments of relief amid such ferocity. Pascal's trilogy (begun with Theresa and A Dead Woman On Holiday) is brought to a violent, disturbing and even defiant close with this powerful work.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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