The Mikvah Project – The Orange Tree Theatre, London

Writer: Josh Azouz

Director: Georgia Green

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Of all the directors from St Mary’s University presenting work at the Directors’ Festival at the Orange Tree, Georgia Green’s vision seems brightest, turning the stage into a mikvah, a Jewish bathhouse. Here Jewish people immerse themselves in the water to achieve ritual purity, and here, in Josh Azouz’s play, two men embark on an illicit affair.

With the underneath of the Orange Tree’s stage revealed, an elegant pool appears and it shimmers under Chris McDonnell’s lights. 35-year-old Avi performs the ritual of immersion to ‘make his sperm swim’ as he and his wife are having difficulties conceiving. Eitan’s reasons for attending the bathhouse are less holy; the 17-year-old just wants to be with Avi, and one day he finds enough courage to lean across the pool and give the older man a kiss.

There is great potential in Azouz’s story, and its lack of climaxes and retributions intrigues just as much as it frustrates. But, unfortunately, the relationship between the two men doesn’t quite ring true, and there is little sexual chemistry between them, even when they go to Alicante on holiday. Green keeps the two men apart too much: opposite sides of the pool, different corners of the changing room. There is no space for desire to prosper.

As Eitan, Dylan Mason exhibits the confusion of a teenager, unsure of what identity to choose for himself. Avi, with his secrets and his repressed desires, is perhaps a more complex role to play: indeed, Robert Neumark Jones buries the same-sex desire so deeply that it’s hard to believe it’s there. When the two splash about the swimming pool in Spain or head to a rave club they seem like bezzy mates, rather than lovers. This is not helped by the fact that Neumark Jones doesn’t look (or act) as if he is 18 years older.

In many ways, The Mikvah Project calls out for a filmic adaptation where lust and longing could be more easily conveyed by the means of close-ups and stolen glances amidst the cool marble and warm steam. But Green and designer Cory Shipp still create some beautiful images as the two men slip under the water, reconfiguring the Orange Tree’s stage into a cloistered private space. It’s a pity that the script demands other locations; the story overreaches and loses focus, and then the pool just gets in the way.

Runs until 11 August 2019 | Image: Robert Day

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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