Content Note: Mention of antisemitism and the Holocaust

After suspensions, cancellations, and a mass of anxious stewards haranguing anybody eating a chocolate bar indoors, the Edinburgh Fringe is returning to its pre-Covid chaos, with over 3000 performances flocking towards the Scottish capital from August 5th. Originally running in the Corpus Christi Playhouse, one Cambridge student production attending the festival this year is Amy Lever’s Life Before the Line. I speak to Amy, along with directors Tasmin Jones and Ben Philips, as they prepare to head north.

The play centres on a terror alarm at a Jewish faith school. What did Amy want to achieve with this story?

“There’s a lot of things that people don’t know about the Jewish community–there’s so little representation culturally, on TV, film, stage. I know, growing up, there [weren’t] a lot of people who culturally represented me. So I wanted to write something that […] I would have liked to have watched. Something that gave a much more well-rounded representation of Jewish people and the diversity within the Jewish community.”

“Everybody involved just wants to embrace everything with open arms”

In Amy’s own faith school, the need for terrorism drills emphasised the continued antisemitism present in the UK. Are the issues currently facing the Jewish community underrepresented in British media?

“I do think there is a complete vacuum of representation in terms of contemporary Jewish life. Films about Jewish people either follow the holocaust or follow Biblical stories or, more recently, the extreme Orthodox communities. I think Christianity is just always the default or the assumption in most TV shows. The only [show] which comes to mind is Friday Night Dinner, and even then, there’s been a lot of talk in the media about how most of the actors aren’t Jewish and most of the writers aren’t Jewish. I think it’s very important [to have] representation with lived experience incorporated into the storytelling. There’s so little of that.”

Amy tells me that the play was influenced by David Baddiel’s, Jews Don’t Count, a book which highlights Britain’s apathy towards Jewish problems. Antisemitism, it’s important to recall, isn’t just a historical problem. But it’s also important to remember that Jewish characters should exist beyond their religion. Ben describes how this is the case in Life Before the Line:

“Yes we have Jewish characters, but they’re also teenagers: they have hobbies, they have families, they go to concerts, they go to parties. Amy has written multifaceted characters, who happen to be Jewish.”

Amy mentioned the non-Jewish casting in Friday Night Dinner. Did Life Before the Line try to cast Jewish actors?

“We were very restricted by the practicalities of it,” Ben tells me: “In the first case, two of the characters, Sara and Danny, are Sephardic Iranian Jews. If this was a national production and you could put out a big casting call, that would be one thing. But working with the student community, finding somebody who has a Middle-Eastern background, and then [is] also Jewish, we didn’t have anyone come forward in Cambridge. So then it’s about casting someone who really understands and fits the Middle Eastern background, and then through Amy […] and me being Jewish, we can fill in any cultural blanks.”

“I think it’s very important [to have] representation with lived experience incorporated into the storytelling”

“It’s the idea of ‘sensitivity within constraints’,” Tasmin notes. When casting, the directors tried to source Jewish actors by contacting various societies: Persian Soc, Jewish Soc, JCRs. But ultimately, their pool of auditionees was limited. As Ben reflects in the most Notting-Hill-esque of ways: “We’re just a group of students, asking a load of other students to do something really nice for us.”

From this borough in North West London, our conversation turns towards Scotland. This will be the first time either of the directors attend the Fringe. Have they been up to see the venue?

Tasmin and Ben share a nervous giggle. “No.”

Is this something that they’re worried about? Will they get a dress-rehearsal in? Or will their first show be a Baptism of stage-lefts?

Recovering from her anxious laughter, Tasmin suddenly becomes business-like: “We tried to mitigate as much as possible. We got the layout of the stage, we’ve thought about where people are sitting. If you were on Jesus Green one day you would have seen us with a tape measure and cones, laying out the stage. So the cast have blocked it out on an imaginary stage.”

Their play will be performed in Venue 45–one of the original Fringe locations–and the actors will need to cope with pillars obscuring parts of their stage and an unevenly distributed audience. The space is very different from the Corpus Playhouse, Ben admits: “But we’ve stressed [to the cast] that this is going to be a learning experience. They’re good actors; they will find the space.”


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Tasmin may have remodelled Jesus Green as the doppelgänger of Venue 45, but the Fringe itself will be new territory for the production team. What are they expecting?

“A lot of flyering,” is Ben’s initial, laconic response. And then, after a moment’s thought: “Sourcing a table at very short notice.”

Tasmin adds: “We never thought we’d get this opportunity. We applied for the funding that we got awarded, hoping […] but not thinking that we’d get it. I think everybody involved just wants to embrace everything with open arms.”

“And there’s a beach!” Ben chimes in: “I mean it’s a Scottish beach… But the main thing is [that] we’re having fun. If we’re all having fun, the play will be good!”

Life Before the Line is playing at Venue 45, Edinburgh Fringe, 15-20th and 22-27th August