EZRA @ Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh
EZRA is an enjoyable and witty play from writer Stella Green, strongly performed by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company
The first half of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company's EZRA sees the eponymous lead (Levi Mattey), his sister Noya (Hannah Churchill) and their mother Ellen (Florence Elliott) muddling through the heavily prescribed traditions of the Seder Passover meal. This provides much fun and confusion, although some of the gags might have been missed by an audience with no awareness of the formalities and the meaning behind them. A few carefully-placed lines would have dealt with this issue, but as it stands EZRA fulfils its objective of opening up some of the opaqueness of Jewish rituals to a non-Jewish audience, but only to a certain extent.
An explanation is also missing as to why the family decide to carry out the ritual at this time. This could have provided rich ground to mine, exploring the potential tension of upholding traditional rituals which may have become meaningless to modern, secular Jews.
In the second half, Ezra unearths a discrepancy in his family's history and re-lives a buried childhood trauma, although this section of the play seems to be unrelated to what has gone before. It loses focus, with too much space and silence to maintain the tension cleverly built through the lighting and sound design. Boy – a ghost whom Ezra begins to see and interact with – provides a link between the two halves. It's a difficult part played well by Yann Davies, who manages to evoke empathy and intrigue without speaking a word.
The relationship between Ezra and Noya is lovely, with their fondness for each other strongly evident beneath the teasing and bickering. Ellen, the mother of the piece, is more difficult to warm to. Although her role is also well acted, with some really nice touches showing the understanding between mother and daughter, her character comes across like a sibling rather than a figure of support or parental authority, making her superfluous to the plot.
As a whole EZRA is a very accomplished and enjoyable production, but it still feels as though the team behind it missed an opportunity. The writer would have created a much stronger piece by sticking with the original theme, and using the whole play to delve deeper into exploring British Jewish secularity.