Social Media

The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays - Interview

Following their sold-out run of A Night of New Jewish Writing at the Kiln Theatre in 2022, Emanate Productions are back at the Soho Theatre this August with a brand-new triple bill of Jewish plays. The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays is a world premiere of new short plays by three of the UK’s leading Jewish playwrights, exploring life’s great moments of birth, marriage, and death through a distinctly Jewish lens. 

The show is produced by the company’s Co-Artistic Directors, 2021 Guildhall Acting graduates Sam Thorpe-Spinks (Sexy Beast, Paramount; Something in the Air, Jermyn Street Theatre) and Dan Wolff (We Were The Lucky Ones, 20th Century/Hulu; Leopoldstadt, Wyndham’s Theatre), and Associate Producer Tanya Truman (Pickle, Soho Theatre, Park Theatre; Fury and Elysium, The Other Palace). Kayla Feldman (Pickle, Soho Theatre, Park Theatre; Right Dishonourable Friend, Vault Festival) will be directing. 

BIRTH by Amy Rosenthal (Henna Night; Jerusalem Syndrome; On The Rocks) follows Michael and Linda in the aftermath of their Golden Wedding celebrations, as they are surprised by an uninvited guest. Will Naomi's visit be the marzipan on the fruitcake, or is she a fruitcake; and has she arrived - once again - at the wrong time? 

MARRIAGE by Alexis Zegerman (The Fever Syndrome; Holy Sh*t; Portrait Of A Man) sees a Jewish couple during their journey from one date to a million possibilities. Can Adrian and Eva navigate a dating app hook-up whilst also carrying the burden of two thousand years in the wilderness? Or is that just way too much pressure for a first date? 

DEATH by Ryan Craig (Charlotte and Theodore; The Holy Rosenbergs; Filthy Business) is a humorous look at how ancient death rites can bring a family together, even after it's been torn apart by divorce, illness, narcissism and neurosis. 

The trio of plays run at Soho Theatre from Tuesday 15th until Saturday 26th August. Ahead of the run, I spoke with Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman and Ryan Craig about the plays.

What inspired you to write your respective plays?
Amy Rosenthal: Before any pens were put to paper, Ryan, Alexis and I got together and talked about making a link between our plays (beyond life seen through a Jewish lens). We wanted an arc even though we were writing independently, and Ryan’s wife cleverly suggested we frame it around Birth, Marriage and Death. I landed Birth, then panicked wildly as I don’t have kids myself, and although a lot of my friends have dealt and are dealing with issues around fertility, I didn’t feel that was my story to tell. Then I remembered I’d been born - and that there’s a curious tale attached to my birth – which was induced unusually early for a most peculiar reason.

Alexis Zegerman: Amy Rosenthal, Ryan Craig, and myself got together to talk through ideas. We’d worked together on the previous Emanate production, which sprung out of a sudden waking up about Antisemitism in the industry. So that event felt very raw and reactive for us. This felt different. We didn’t necessarily feel a need to tackle Antisemitism. That said, Antisemtism is sadly not going anywhere, and one could say it’s in my bone marrow. For this event, I wanted to pose a question about how much responsibility Jewish people have to keep the Jewish race going - particularly those Jews who define themselves culturally or racially, rather than religiously. There are 270,000 Jews in the UK. We are a minority ethnic group with numbers dwindling. Is it our responsibility to keep the Jewish diaspora going?

Ryan Craig: All the ideas sort of materialised from sharing anecdotes around a table in Zegerman’s Camden Town office. In lieu of having anything substantive to write about, we did what writers usually do. Gossiped. At different points over the two day session, we each unwittingly came in to land on a story the others felt might somehow form the plot of a short play. This haphazard method lead us, accidentally, to deeply personal plays. Mine evolved from a story I told about a friend who’d tried to teach his daughter a life lesson through giving their pet a semi-religious burial.

Did you have to do any research whilst you were writing the production or did you combine your own personal experience?
RC: I phoned my friend and got him to fill me in on the details of the pet funeral. He was remarkably helpful, even supplying photographic evidence. As was another friend, a surgeon, who provided some specifics regarding a highly complex brain operation carried out by the character, Dan.

AZ: When I was writing I had Nick Grosso’s play Kosher Harry on my mind. Whilst the only thing particularly Jewish about Nick Grosso’s play is the title - it’s set in a cafe which I think is part St. John’s Wood Deli, part Mario’s in Kentish Town - my Emanate play shares a similar setting with an other-worldly quality.

AR: I didn’t need much research for this. My personal experience and my mum’s recollection of my birth gave me a springboard for an imagined encounter, and the characters seemed to take life.

How thrilling is it to work alongside like-minded artists on the project?
AR: It’s joyful and inspiring to collaborate with friends and fellow practitioners whose work you admire. I’ve known Ryan and Alexis for years, we’ve worked with and alongside each other and watched all each other’s plays, and we have a shared sensibility, sense of humour and curiosity about our roots. I’ve also been inspired by working with the Emanate team, their warmth and enthusiasm for new work and the positive way they’re amplifying Jewish voices in theatre.

RC: So thrilling I can hardly breathe. I’ve known Rosenthal and Zegerman since before the invention of velcro. We’ve been in each other's orbit professionally and all three of us wrote plays for last year’s Emanate outing. This time, though, the collaboration has been much closer. Is it too much to say it’s like working with family? But family who don’t drive you out of your mind.

AZ: So much of writing is on your own, in your own space, so it’s great to do something collaborative with writers I admire, and who I also count as colleagues and friends. There are many creatives on board this show whose work I love. So I think it’ll make for a great evening.

What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?
RC: I’d never make a prescription about what the audience should take away. It’s deadly when a play tells you what to think. An audience takes away what they want, they have their own agency or they’re not having a very good time. Or a very edifying one. The play talks about what it talks about. The characters go through something, resolve their differences, or don’t. All I want the audience to do is experience the play and maybe it’ll live with them a little while after they caught the last Uber home.

AR: I always want an audience to leave with hope. A little bittersweet maybe, but ultimately with optimism. I want them to have a laugh, to be engaged, surprised, provoked – and to be still talking about the show on the way home rather than forgetting it when the lights come up.

AZ: I don’t think it’s the job of the writer to force the audience into a way of seeing and feeling. I was talking to a Jewish dramaturg a while back, and she told me that Jewish writers tend to be more open-ended with their stories. It’s slightly at odds with white, Western, traditional storytelling which has a very Aristotelian beginning, middle and end. We need to be able to embrace the idea of things continuing, questions not being answered. Think of Tevye at the end of Fiddler on the Roof pulling his milk cart. Perhaps he’s off to another village….until that one is burned down…

What performances/shows have inspired you?
AZ: I take inspiration from everywhere. The last play I saw was Lenny Henry’s one-man show August in England at the Bush, centring on the Windrush scandal. It was a bravura performance, and so incredibly moving.

RC: When I was a student I went to see Terry Johnson’s play Hysteria. Henry Goodman, aged up a few decades, was mind-blowing as Freud, he completely sucked you into that world. The fact that I got to work with both these titans on plays of mine is one of the great pleasures of my life.

AR: A new play I loved recently was Not Now by David Ireland at the Finborough Theatre. Deceptively light and simple - a two-hander, a conversation – but it was about everything; funny, profound and political without a moment of tub-thumping. So unexpectedly touching at the end that we were all on our feet, uplifted. That’s the kind of work I want to watch and write.

Can you describe the show in 3 words?

AR: I hope it’ll be funny, punchy and heartening, like a good meal with pals.

AZ: Craig Rosenthal Zegerman.

RC: Jews Do Soho.

The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays runs at Soho Theatre from Tuesday 15th until Saturday 26th of August 2023. Tickets are available from

Post a Comment


Theme by STS