Tue 3rd – Sat 7th December 2013


David McShane

at 02:40 on 4th Dec 2013



Kvetch is worthy of an hour to lighten the eighth week apathy. Short and sparky, with performances from all the main cast worthy of comment, Kvetch is a refreshingly comic, crude and distinctly in-yer-face play by Stephen Berkoff. The plot seems to take gratuitous leaps in order to glue its comic scenes into a narrative, but this production takes this into consideration and instead focuses on the comic substance - of which there is much.

All the cast fluidly slipped from group conversation to asides, explaining their ‘Kvetches’ (complaints) with a speed which kept pace with the wit the play requires. The first half of the play was particularly good, maneuvering from comic caricature to depth. Hal (Ed Barr-Sim) was particularly well judged, toeing the fine line which enabled the audience to laugh at (rather than be alienated by) his more morbid asides. The Mother-In-Law (Sam Ereira) was impossible not to enjoy. Fart jokes in any setting, Oxford or otherwise, are always a relief. The second half, comparatively, seemed less tight. But I would argue that this is more due to the script than any fault of the production or actors.

The physicality was well handled, particularly in the imaginary sex scenes where the actors paired strong slapstick with great comic timing. The lighting and staging was also consistently impressive. The swift block-colour light changes gave a solidarity to each aside whilst the bold choice to use minimal props paid off as it made the action crystal clear: the production simply uses a hanging lampshade to show the situation. The sound effects of a siren used in one of Frank’s more kvetch-full moments worked well, and it would have been nice to see this employed more; there did seem to be other moments which would have welcomed its use.

In the limited space of the BT, good use was made of the available space, including the central aisle at various points. This kept the pace up and the audience engaged as we turned and peered over shoulders to locate characters and voices. However, this did mean that those not on the front rows did miss some slapstick action on the ground, such as that involving balloons and a breast (singular) which was moderately disappointing (I advise a front seat).

All in all, this well acted and well staged play is an enjoyable late-night choice for anyone kvetching through eighth week.


Samuel Lane

at 08:49 on 4th Dec 2013



"Kvetch" is an altogether extraordinary show. As soon as one enters the auditorium, to bouncy music and actors miming mundane tasks, yet with surreal intensity, it is clear that something far from conventional awaits. Berkoff's "Kvetch" explores the thoughts, fears, aspirations, emotions and anxieties of an ordinary Jewish community in 1980's Brooklyn, penetrating into the mind of the characters through soliloquies which are in turn explosive, pained and hilarious.

The sustained brilliance of the play is to unearth these frustrations and anxieties of the characters and to turn them into quality drama. These grumbles are things known to all, the embarrassment of parents, nervousness about telling jokes or the awkwardness of a companion farting. Yet in "Kvetch", the smallest irritations and fears are built on, steadily increasing and becoming more extreme until they reach a sensational conclusion, often both funny and poignant. The return to the action, where these personal feelings are often disregarded in favour of maintaining social normality and convention is striking. Berkoff thus takes elements which all can relate to and reflect upon, and crafts it into wonderful theatre. This is at the very heart of the play; the overall narrative and plot, of the characters struggling to overcome their central kvetches or anxieties, though satisfying, can seem somewhat rushed and is clearly secondary.

The success of such a show, so dependent on insights into the character's psyche, is pinned on its cast. Every actor is clearly good, comfortable with their lines, physically engaging, confident in their often intimate relations with the audience and performing with a general conviction and intensity. Misha Pinnington is an excellent Donna, with her snarling gripes and pent up sexual appetite, and Ed Bar-Sim covers the range of Hal's emotions intelligently, from the quiet worry to the brief bursts of horror. Worthy of particular note is Jonny Purkiss as Frank. Throughout the whole gamut of feelings, from frenzied panic, nervous sweating, explosions of anger and tentative assuredness, he is utterly captivating.

The talent of the cast, and the strength of Berkoff's writing make this an outstanding show. This is a truly fantastic student production.


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