L to R: Ben Caplan, Ilan Goodman & David Horovitch © Manuel Harlan

Shiver

13th February 2014

Shiver by Daniel Kanaber

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

Daniel Kanaber’s new play, Shiver, directed by Derek Bond for Watford Palace Theatre, manages to be both specific and universal. Set in a house of mourning, where three Jewish men – a father, a son and a trainee rabbi – are sitting Shivah for Sadie who died the day before, it deals both with this particular practice and with the wider themes of love and loss and the place of religion as a source of comfort in grief. It is, despite its heavy subject matter, something of a comedy; indeed, it gets a laugh from the audience inside 30 seconds, and the humour, particularly in the awkwardness of the relationship between father Mordecai and son Ben (some swift, sharp exchanges) continues to lighten it throughout… although, it is, of course, a humour touched with sadness. Mordecai and Ben are, if not estranged, at odds with each other, and at odds with the rituals of the Jewish faith. In this they are not helped by Rabbi Avod, who is officiating at a Shivah for the first time and who is up against the clock as the onset of Yom Kippur approaches fast. Some of the jokes are predictable, but they are kind rather than cruel. There’s no malice in the way in which Kanaber pokes gentle fun, and it is a welcome counterpoint to the high emotional intensity as unpleasant truths are revealed.

This is a play that is not afraid of silence, and while this can be a good thing, it has to be skilfully managed to prevent a drop in energy. Now and then I felt that Derek Bond needed to get his three chaps (David Horovitch as Mordecai, Ben Caplan as Ben and Ilan Goodman as Rabbi Joshua Avod) to pick up the pace a little, but overall Bond has a sure touch that brings out some of the subtleties without overplaying them. The characters are well-written, full of interesting complexities and pleasingly unlikeable on occasion but no less appealing for that; they’ve been well cast, and they’re well played.

The set – a bedroom in a North London suburban house – is semi-realistic – a bed, a chest of drawers, a chair but little else apart from gauze panels. It’s curiously disorientating: you’re not sure quite how literally you’re meant to take the characters on stage: are they notionally real people, or semi-abstract representations for big concepts? The play works whichever way you look at it, however; it could, perhaps, be a little more challenging, and there is the occasional clunky plot twist, but it’s moving and thought-provoking and sweetly done.

Shiver continues at Watford Palace Theatre until 22 February 2014

01923 225671 • www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk

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