Adapter Mira Rafalowicz and director Katie Mitchell eschew the macro-themes and perspectives of recent Dybbuks in favour of immersion in detail. A way of life whose every word and gesture carries devotional baggage is rigorously invoked throughout this production's three hours. Unfortunately, the pervasive and propelling mysticism and cabbalism in this story of love, death and possession from beyond the grave aren't in themselves enough to make a theatrical experience.
The performances, too, are studied rather than felt: John Shrapnel's exorcist is a picture of grave authority, Rob Edwards' Messenger one of oracular mystery, but they remain pictures rather than incarnations. Most tellingly, throughout the possession of Leye by the spirit of her suitor Khonen, Joanne Pearce never seems to abandon control; she writhes, vomits blood and pisses herself, but the alienness of movement first unloosed on a stage by David Byrne (I'm serious here) is wholly absent from Leye.
There's music, dance, a wealth of rabbinical anecdote and parable... in fact, the canvas is too complete. The world is given priority over the story, and at twice the length either of Bruce Myers' joyous two-hander or Julia Pascal's horrifying Nazi maelstrom, it's a big and cumbersome world whose intricacies, self-defeatingly, leave little room for shadowy other worlds to abut onto it. To switch Chasidic legends: this production has fashioned a huge and potentially powerful figure out of clay, but they can't breathe life into it.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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