As a child, Elise Esther Hearst was always writing and always acting. The two paths merged in her university days when she first began to study scriptwriting.
“It unlocked pure joy in me,” Hearst recalled to The AJN. After university, she was determined to see where a scriptwriting degree could lead.
So she hopped on a plane and headed to London, immersing herself in the playwriting scene. She has been writing for theatre ever since.
When Hearst was a resident writer at Melbourne Theatre Company, a conversation began with fellow resident writer Phillip Kavanagh about the fact that Hearst was hosting Christmas for her husband’s family.
“One thing led to another, and we thought it would be fun to attempt to adapt the classic Charles Dickens, but somehow make it Jewish, and in doing so, subvert some of the inherent antisemitism that has historically been associated with the text and the original author.”
She is, of course, talking about A Christmas Carol by Dickens and her adaptation, A Very Jewish Christmas Carol which begins its run with Melbourne Theatre Company on November 14.
A Very Jewish Christmas Carol follows local baker Ely who isn’t letting anything stand in the way of fulfilling customer orders for her Bubi’s famous Polish gingerbread. It promises a laugh-out-loud journey with stories drawn from both Hearst’s and Kavanagh’s backgrounds.
The cast, which Hearst called “bloody wonderful” is also teeming with Jewish artists, including Evelyn Krape and Jude Perl, among others. Hearst said this absolutely a conscious decision.
“As I was writing the play, I was also reading David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count, and it was the first time I had come across the articulation of ‘Jewface’, wherein non-Jewish actors are cast in Jewish roles, and their Jewishness becomes performative (and at times offensive),” Hearst explained. “It felt very important to me to imbue this production with as much authenticity as possible. After all, it is not usual for our stories to grace the mainstage theatres and we are often represented as side characters or as the butts of jokes.”
Hearst said that in the particular environment the world is currently facing, there has been nothing more uplifting than being part of the Jewish creatives who have come together to make a show that celebrates life. Explaining that there “will be song, there will be Yiddish, there will be joy … all created with an immense amount of love”, Hearst said audiences can definitely expect to laugh. A lot.
“This show is about family, about love, about remembering and honouring our ancestors, ghosts and spirits. It is a laugh-out-loud comedy teeming with ridiculous kitsch, dark humour, and a good dose of tsuris, because, after all, this Christmas Carol is a Jewish one.”
A Very Jewish Christmas Carol is on at Southbank Theatre from November 14 to December 16. For tickets: tickets.mtc.com.au/production/17389