views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Ya'akobi and Leidental
Etcetera Theatre
1st August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for Ya'akobi and Leidental

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Why would you spend your spare time sitting in a dark room with a pair of tramps pondering "is this all there is?" when you could reflect on exactly the same in the company of two rather dapper domino-playing besties and a large tushie? In Hanoch Levin's grotesque comedy Ya'akobi & Leidental, Itamar Ya'akobi (Daryl Green) tries to disentangle himself from a mundane co-existence with David Leidental (Cole Michaels) and forge a more exciting path on his own. Bored of endless cups of tea and an early bedtime, it looks like things are on the up for Itamar when he meets Big Tush - oh, and Ruth Shahash (Adi Lev), the woman to whom the infamous tush is attached. But, spoiler alert: no matter how much Itamar wants excitement and fulfilment, Godot doesn't turn up promptly in this play either.

All three main characters strive for meaning and yet never seem to get anywhere. Ruth plays curious mind games with Itamar, convinced this is the best way to snare and hold onto a husband. Itamar effectively drifts from one platonic 'marriage' to another, settling at the first opportunity rather than allowing himself to imagine anything more passionate and truly worth having. David pins all his hopes of happiness on his friends, humiliating himself in front of the people he knows, rather than attempting to make any new less selfish connections. The trio's utterly nonsensical inner monologues, as translated brilliantly by Shir Freibach, are amusing and yet horrifically bleak. (An example being Ruth's throwaway comment about being ready to marry anyone smelling "of steady income".)

Green, Michaels and Lev are natural comic performers, the men in particular contorting their faces into some fantastically funny expressions. Lev shimmies around the set dragging her exaggerated bustle behind her, breaking up Itamar and David's established dynamic. There's a coquettishness to her movement, with Lev having great fun with her false Kardashian-esque rear. Not only do all three bring the laughs easily, they also have good singing voices, frequently bursting in silly songs about Ruth's "big tush" or the simple joy of "smelly farts". Breezy piano melodies by Alex Kagan, as brought to life by pianist and musical director Alex Kremakova combine with simple, clear, droll lyrics.

Dressed as smartly as they are, the protagonists could feasibly be from any decade in the last half century, however Lev's pussy bow blouse and long pleated floaty skirt suggest a setting contemporaneous with the play's original debut in the 1970s. The script has aged well, with Freibach's at times deliberately stilted linguistic choices adding even more humour. The action takes place in and around houses, coffee shops and a park, so all very universal locations. It may be an old Israeli play, but it feels widely relatable and undated.

Ya'akobi and Leidental is a gloriously entertaining fast-paced show, with director Bence Kalo only letting up the speed towards the end, leading to it overrunning slightly. It's almost worth it though just to spend more time with the protagonists. This is an absurdist production that rather than challenge you and leave you baffled, will quite simply leave you in a good mood. The sheer ridiculousness of it all will have you in giggles from start to finish.

Ya'akobi and Leidental opened on 1st August and runs until 5th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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