Mix some Yiddish folklore with Chanukah and Christmas celebrations, add rapid-fire one-liners and catchy songs and you have A Very Jewish Christmas Carol, a play that MTC premiered at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner last Saturday night (November 18).
Created by writers Elise Esther Hearst and Phillip Kavanagh with inspiration from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it centres around a Jewish family celebrating Christmas and Chanukah – Chrismukah – in unusual circumstances.
The script is peppered with snappy one-liners that elicited plenty of laughs, and the musical numbers portraying the festive spirit of both religions – led by Jude Perl – are highlights.
Unlike the annual Purim Spiels where much of the humour requires some knowledge of leading communal figures and Jewish politics, the predominantly non-Jewish audience at A Very Jewish Christmas Carol opening night had no trouble appreciating the humour.
Even when veteran actor Evelyn Krape delivered her rapier-like repartee in Yiddish in her scene-stealing role of the ghost of Holocaust-survivor grandmother Bubi, the humour was obvious.
Bubi’s ghost, resplendent in a stylishly bright holiday outfit, makes an appearance on Christmas night at the family bakery run by her granddaughter Elysheva Scroogavitz, played by Miriam Glaser in a strong performance.
Elysheva is about to give birth to her first child while battling the loss of her fiancé, handsome non-Jewish Ben (Michael Whalley) and is in no mood for festive celebrations.
Bubi’s ghost laments how the bakery that she built into a thriving business, partly due to her secret gingerbread recipe that she never revealed, has fallen on hard times and the conversation leads to squabbles between family members.
The play starts in the present day and explores different stages in the family history, covering 2016, the 1990s and Poland on the eve of World War II where the mood becomes more sombre as we learn about family members who perished in the Holocaust.
Krape, who also delights in playing a golem, sings a poignant Yiddish song with English surtitles.
There are fine performances by Natalie Gumsu as Elysheva’s mother Fran and Louise Siversen in the roles of Ben‘s grieving mother Carol and a reindeer dybbuk.
A Very Jewish Christmas Carol, directed by Sarah Giles, is a festive treat well worth seeing.
A Very Jewish Christmas Carol is at the Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until December 16. Bookings: mtc.com.au