In rehearsal: Life Before the LinePhoto/ Farzana Haque

Anyone can appreciate a good coming-of-age story. Whilst the high school drama genre has its clichés and conventions, stories that focus on the painful transitional period between childhood and adulthood will never stop being relatable. When writing Life Before the Line, Amy Lever was inspired by her love of teen-centred movies like Booksmart and Lady Bird to craft a drama with a setting that she was familiar with – a Jewish faith high school in Manchester, much like the one she attended.

I talked to Amy Lever and director Ben Phillips about their creative process. The play is a personal venture for both of them. Amy talked to me about the need for more well-rounded perspectives on Jewishness – so often presented as a white, Eurocentric faith despite the diversity of the community.

“I think often being Jewish is seen as being inherently political”

Ben’s great-grandmother was brought to the UK by the Kindertransport, a rescue effort that took Jewish children from countries under Nazi occupation. His family only discovered that they were Jewish after finding her old German passport. The play, he explains, has been an opportunity for him to connect to his cultural background.

Life Before the Line follows four Jewish teenagers trapped in a classroom after their school terrorist alarm rings. At times, the characters address the audience directly, confiding in us what they are unable to express aloud. “They want to say one thing, but they say another, ” Amy tells me, “and that duality captures what it’s like to be a young person, when you’re still putting that front on and keeping a wall up.”

The audience is invited into the private worlds of the teenagers, but broader social and political contexts are ever-present. The play is set in 2016, so the characters exist against the backdrop of the Labour party antisemitism scandal and a spike in antisemitic hate crimes.

“I do very much see my world in the story. But I think it’s taken on a life of its own”

Whilst the terrorist alarm is the story’s inciting incident, time is spent watching the teenagers navigate more personal issues – first loves, friendships, and difficult relationships with parents. For much of the play, antisemitism exists in the background, but it is not the story’s central focus.

“It’s just presented as a reality”, says Ben. “We don’t address why these kids might be targets. We don’t talk about anything political in that sense. I think often being Jewish is seen as being inherently political. But they’re just teenagers, and they just need to have a terrorist alarm, and they all know what to do – they know to shut the blinds and turns off the lights and get under the desks.”

In 2020, the Home Office granted £14 million to Jewish schools and synagogues for security, following increased safety concerns.

“I went to a secular school, and we had a lockdown drill, but it was a joke,” Ben continues. “We used it as an opportunity to play on our phones.”

At Amy’s Jewish faith school, regular drills were an evidently necessary precaution.


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“It would usually happen when things would heat up in the Middle East...” she says. “Then there would be bottles thrown over the fence. There was graffiti. A student was attacked near my school, once.”

Most antisemitic incidents in the play were based on real events and first person accounts. The writing process involved interviews with family and friends, as well as extensive research into cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition from which main character Danny suffers. Cystic fibrosis is particularly prevalent in Jewish communities.

“I do very much see my world in the story,” Amy says. “But I think because the story has developed so much, particularly with the incredible actors, that it’s taken on a life of its own.”

Both Ben and Amy speak with a lot of warmth and affection about their characters. The teenagers’ vulnerability, fire, and heart-warming friendships, they feel sure, will ring true for their audience. The play is a coming-of age drama with political resonance, but its spirit comes from the characters, who give the story its inextinguishable hope and heart.

Life Before the Line plays from Tuesday 25th January - Saturday 29th January at the Corpus Playroom. All proceeds will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.