I laughed and laughed and as I cycled home I was still laughing. Kvetch, on at the Burton Taylor Studio until Saturday, is hilarious. The word is of Yiddish origin and means to complain or whine (a lot); it can also be used as a noun. Steven Berkoff’s 1987 short play, set in Brooklyn, explores the inner neuroses of its five kvetching characters.
We have husband and wife duo Frank (Jonny Purkiss) and Donna (Misha Pinnington), whose fears and frustrations are as much bound up in the other as rooted in the self. Donna’s mother-in-law (Sam Ereira) comes over for dinner too often, farts too much and, in this version at least, has a somewhat less active (read: less paranoid) inner life than the others, which seems only fair; as any kvetcher might say, possibly the only consolation of age is having less to worry about. In theory. At least mother-in-law can have a stress-free mid-meal snooze. Frank’s colleague Hal (Ed Barr-Sim) is invited for dinner and dreads being asked what he does at nights now that he’s single. (“Single! … even the word tastes dirty,” rhapsodises poor disillusioned Frank.) And wealthy George (Sam Ward) worries about becoming a “schmuck” and not being able to get it up.
Kvetch might be a Yiddish word but the self-loathing and anxiety that attack these characters are universal. Invitations are made and accepted out of politeness and social convention, with both parties privately dreading the occasion; couples have sex thinking of other people; individuals build their lives around lies. “At home it’s quiet and I know who I am and what I am,” Hal thinks. The line is suggestive of the rich plangency of Berkoff’s script, which unites acute, even haunting, insights with the brilliance of comedy. Nightingale Productions, with Ellen Page as director, has opted for a firmly funny interpretation of Berkoff’s original; the existential angst that remains is always comic, with perhaps only the very last moment of the play suggestive of poignancy. It is a phenomenal job, not least as Kvetch never descends into mere trivia. (Even with a brilliant breast-as-balloons moment.) To echo Frank, perhaps it’s all down to the comic [silence silence] timing, which is vital in creating an effect so absolutely funny—and not as easy as one might think to command.
Occasionally sound effects (farts, I’m talking to you) are a little too resonant: some speech was lost, which is a shame because almost every line provokes chuckling. The play is laugh-out-loud funny. As for the cast, it is top-notch, especially Ed Barr-Sim who shone as the first insecure and later assertive Hal. Yet to single out any name out is almost silly: all five actors made this show. So don’t kvetch about whether or not to drop by the BT one night this week at 9:30. Go, go, go.
Kvetch is showing at the Burton Taylor Studio at 9.30pm until Saturday. Tickets £6/5 and available here.
PHOTO/ Nightingale Productions