Thursday 29th September 2022 at The White Bear Theatre, London.
Reviewer: Issy Flower
Premiering just after Rosh Hashanah, Candlesticks poses increasingly topical questions about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, religion and identity, and the way in which these can be discovered or lost to the detriment of the family. Unfortunately, the variable quality of the script prevents the discussion of these issues from reaching its full potential, and impacts the rest of the production to its detriment.
Jenny (Sophie McMahon) has arrived home from travelling on the eve of Passover with an announcement: she is converting to Christianity. This shocks her Jewish mother Louise (Mary Tillett), neighbour Julia (Kathryn Worth) and childhood sweetheart Ian (James Duddy), setting off a chain of events with ramifications for all four. Rather a clunky text to begin with (these characters say each other’s names more than many people have said their own, ever), it is also beginning to show its age, with McMahon and Duddy striving valiantly to make these characters seem like modern young people and sometimes failing.
The standout moments are when Deborah Freeman lets her characters dig deep into the religious discussions, or highlights the friendship between Louise and Julia, which is far more convincing than the young romance. The final scene is the highlight of the play, an explosive, comedic, fully satisfying payoff to the previous hour. If only it didn’t take so long to get there.
Jenny Eastop’s direction pays full attention to the central relationships and allows them to shine, but we get our best theatrical moments when individual characters monologue to the audience—a point at which all four performers are at their strongest. Tillett steals the rest of the show, Louise’s exhaustion and difficulties dealing with her daughter’s sudden onset of Christianity wholly believable and enjoyable.
Duddy also shines, brilliantly tracing Ian’s transformation from slacker to convert, but isn’t given enough to do—again, part of the imbalance of the script. McMahon and Worth are unfortunately dimmed in comparison to these strong performances, but they too have their moments, with Worth in particular making the most of the comedic elements. Together, they undoubtedly form a strong dramatic unit.
Candlesticks is a fundamentally flawed play that creaks in all the wrong places, but also has interesting things to say about religion in the modern world. Buoyed by a generally strong cast and insightful direction, it nevertheless fails to become more than the sum of its parts.
Candlesticks plays The White Bear Theatre until October 15th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.