"A must-see performance"Art by Celeste Spratt

Desks, a chalkboard. A school in Manchester in 2016. Four school children walk in, strident, rebellious - short skirts, nail varnish. Is this story about coming of age? Yes - but with a twist. They open their mouths and start singing “Tumbalalaika”, a Jewish folk song. The story is set in a Jewish faith school. Whilst the perspective is not something I had personally experienced, it felt nostalgic. It felt like being sixteen and back at school, back in RS lessons, learning about Jewish festivals, traditions, and celebrations.

The first scene opens with Rabbi Solomon (Sam Brown) asking his RS class about the similarities between monotheistic religions. Clownish bad-boy Alistair (Jacob Benhayoun) answers, “They all pray to one God”; his “nerdy”, witty, and sometimes irrational girlfriend Esty (Emma Kentridge) rolls her eyes and shouts, “Contraception”. Sara (Sawen Ali), fed up with the chaos, takes the stage with a mature speech about the preservation of life; her twin brother Danny (Abraham Alsawaf) nods along admiringly.

The four friends have a great dynamic throughout. They navigate love, friendship, sexuality, drinking, mental health, and desire. This is a universal story, but with the added element of faith: the plot perfectly intertwines Jewish traditions with secular teenage experiences. The majority of the play revolves around religious celebrations: the friends eat Chinese food after the Yom Kippur fast, dress up for the Purim parade and prepare for the Hanukkah concert. It’s wholesome, familial, and warm.

“Distressing at times, and refreshingly real”

Every coming-of-age story has its hardships, but the kids in this Jewish faith school have it especially difficult. The play includes several discussions of antisemitism. It mentions online trolls, conspiracy theories, and the perception of Jews as wealthy and capitalising on others. In the play, these vile conversations occur on social media platforms, in taxis, and in alleyways near the school. Although this kind of racist hatred is hard to watch, writer and Assistant Director Amy Lever successfully captures the emotions of the victims of this misinformation and conspiracy.

The Manchester Arena bombing and a seemingly unrelated terrorist alarm drill at school are pivotal plot points. Although I was initially confused about the connection, Lever cleverly links them with the common theme of speculation and controversy. I think it was a subtle way of including everyone in the audience, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the performance through a shared trauma.

“Though it deals with heavy subjects, the play is also hugely entertaining”

This play was an emotional rollercoaster. The conversations were so engaging that my eyes were glued to the stage , and the pairing of Lever’s script and Ben Philip’s minimalistic direction was completely harmonious. My favourite performances included Kentridge’s Etsy opening up to her therapist and Benhayoun as Ali and his tear-jerking account of his father’s death. The talent was spread evenly across the whole cast, however, from Sarah Walton-Smith’s excellent multi-roling of different motherly figures to Alsawaf’s sentimental but enlightening portrayal of a boy suffering with cystic fibrosis. This performance was dedicated to Dylan Samuels, a friend of Lever, who died of cystic fibrosis, a disease extremely common in Persian Jewish communities. It was an extremely moving depiction of a rarely discussed grief within the Jewish community.


Mountain View

Interview with the creative team behind Life Before The Line

Though it deals with heavy subjects, the play is also hugely entertaining. Brown’s cheerful and gusty Rabbi Solomon was a great comedic joy, as were the hilarious Phoebe Waller-Bridge-esque asides and the silly pranks played by Ali. My only critique was that the play was slightly too long, which is understandable for such a content-packed performance. With such high emotional intensity, it sometimes felt overwhelming. Cutting some content would have relieved this feeling. The intensity was nicely juxtaposed with the plain set and simple lighting, the latter being very effective for intimate scenes.

Overall, the show was astounding. The school setting was nostalgic, warming, and familiar. Distressing at times, and refreshingly real, the play managed to pay homage to Jewish traditions and culture while being an honest look at the community. In my opinion, a must-see performance.