'In this way I shall preserve many things that would otherwise be lost in oblivion. I shall find daily employment for myself, which will save me from indolence and help to keep off the spleen, and I shall lay up a store of entertainment for my after life.'

For James Boswell posts please follow the labels on the right.

This blog mainly contains reviews from the Edinburgh Festivals from 2008 to 2010 which I wrote for the Edinburgh Festivals Magazine. These reviews cover everything from comedy to contemporary dance; children's theatre to Handel.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Dybbuk Review


In an increasingly connected world the idea of an inescapable blood tie to our past, something stronger than borders or reason, sits uneasily in multi-cultural society. It unnerves us to challenge an apparently harmonious setup whereby we can sip Italian coffee, watch American films, eat Asian food and converse with ‘global citizens’, all wired to a mainframe of world news and culture. ‘Dybbuk’ rocks this premise, and presents an uncomfortable vision of a present where the past refuses to stay buried.

In this updated version, we see Szymon Anski’s play sit alongside a contemporary short story by Hanna Krall. Anski’s original piece revolves around a pre-arranged Jewish marriage; bride being suitably distraught at being torn from her true love (Channan) and in a fit of fury becoming possessed by the spirit of Channan.

Except it’s not that simple. Despite protests from wedding guests (‘the dead cannot be among the living’) the Dybbuk retorts that he is not in fact dead. As a result it is less a tale of exorcising demons and more about the present attempting in vain to run from the shadow of the past. The performances are exceptional and the use of lighting and computer imaging, bold. We see the bride, for example, as a ghost one minute, a shrieking banshee the next and finally a motionless vessel for the Dybbuk. The overall effect is unnerving and claustrophobic, the use of sound adding to our unease: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (written one year prior to Anski’s ‘Dybbuk’) having a similar effect.

Carrying the weight of the past on its shoulders, Krall’s piece on a Jewish academic possessed by his brother’s spirit confronts the issue of genocide. The past remains a deeply personal issue in Krall’s story, but is applied to a Jewish immigrant, highlighting that it is his blood and kin, more than any passport, which holds the key to his identity.

‘Dybbuk’ could be criticised for a plot which on the surface is essentially a tragic love/ghost story steeped in Jewish theology and culture. This is true to a point, and there is no getting away from the fact many of the ideas will sail over the heads of non-Jews. Yet the idea of a Dybbuk – a spirit neither good nor bad; simply a soul seeking to achieve something on earth that it could not in its life time – highlights the complex nature of the tale. We are not presented with a malevolent spirit, but rather a manifestation of a culture and identity so deeply engrained, it cannot, for better or worse, be ignored.

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