Review: Kvetch

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★★★★☆
Four Stars

It is safe to say that I was pretty worried about going to see Kvetch; it’s a really hard play to get right on stage. Its characters are consistently repellent, its pace unrelenting, and it insists (and I mean insists) on constant asides to the audience, scrutinizing the characters’ motivations and anxieties in painful detail. I was pretty excited to make a joke about how there was a lot to kvetch (Yiddish for complain) about in Kvetch. So, it was a big ask for these actors to make me like Berkoff’s writing and as I sat down in a BT sparsely set with a lampshade and a few stools, I was worried that I’d made a big mistake by going along—but as soon as the actors got going, I couldn’t help but have an excellent time.

Every actor threw themselves into pitch perfect characterisations with incredibly energy. Jonny Purkiss as Frank and Misha Pinnington as Donna both had a vibrant tension on stage. Purkiss gave a terrifying but also brilliantly comic performance that lurched between splenetic bloodlust and anxiously inspecting his coworker’s imaginary member in a sex fantasy, without descending into caricature- no mean feat. Pinnington’s voice, from the first word, grated and whined and screeched and consistently made me laugh whenever she put her foot in it, which happened a lot.

Add to this Sam Ereira’s flatulent mother-in-law (complete with hair curlers and enormous breast) and the BT became a claustrophobic place to be watching people have such a squirming dinner in their Brooklyn appartment. My highlight came with Frank’s invited co-worker, Ed Barr-Sim’s Hal, whose monologue about whether he ought to start a dinner party at his own house in a kitchen or the living room perfectly captured the overwrought though-processes of this play, and unravelled up to the final perfectly-pitched line ‘I know what I’ll do, I’ll kill myself’. And though Sam Ward’s slimy businessman George had a slightly shifting accent throughout the performance, his comic timing was impeccable and, like all the actors, impressively managed to flesh out what could easily have been a one-dimensional character into a compellingly weird portrayal.

Though this play really is very very funny, the most impressive thing about Ellie Page’s direction is that all the jokes also pack a weighty punch. She has done a terrific job. The play observes the social anxieties that are peculiarly specific and also universal – like spoiling your own joke by thinking halfway through that you might forget the punchline and hating your mother-in-law – but makes the audience complicit and uncomfortable in laughing at these seriously messed-up people. The space was cleverly used in order that the audience could not avoid the actors as they ran through the aisle and this claustrophobia heightened the tragicomedy.

There are some minor problems. I found the lighting bafflingly unhelpful (they kept shining a pink light ostensibly whenever there was an aside but this was inconsistent and proved a distraction when the light’s were ill-timed and the actor’s lines were bang on cue) and there were moments during the long dinner scene where, due to the seating not being raised above the audience’s level, I missed some of the reactions, however these are tiny issues. 

On the whole, I don’t have enough space here to enumerate all the ways that this is a technically brilliant production: just go see it, you’ll only kvetch if you don’t.

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